The move has resulted in the dissolution of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology, and the creation of a new body, the Specialised Technical Committee on Education, Science and Technology (STC-EST). This committee met for the first time late last month, it emerged at the World Science Forum in Budapest, Hungary, on 3-8 November.
“[The body] has now been changed to create a technical committee, which should be very close to the heads of states, to advise them regularly.”
Almamy Konte, African Observatory for Science, Technology and Innovation
The merger is part of a larger development plan at the AU, called Agenda 2063. This plan aims to make Africa’s citizens better educated and more skilled by improving schooling and strengthening science and technology development.
The STC-EST should allow for more detailed discussion between science and education professionals, said Almamy Konte, an innovation policy advisor at the AU’s African Observatory for Science, Technology and Innovation in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
“[The body] has now been changed to create a technical committee, which should be very close to the heads of states, to advise them regularly, instead of only having ministerial conferences every two years,” he said.
But Konte also admitted that the committee will have a larger number of ministers involved than its predecessor, which could make it more unwieldly. There is also a risk that representatives from education, traditionally the much stronger sector in Africa, will dominate those from the science world, he said.
Africa lags behind other continents in all fields of science, meaning it could struggle to meet those Sustainable Development Goals based on education and research, the conference heard. The continent needs huge numbers of new scientists, speakers said, but unfavourable working conditions cause many professionals to emigrate to richer countries.
The STC-EST will also contribute to the AU’s Science, technology and innovation strategy for Africa 2024: the first of a series of ten-year strategies meant to ensure that African science responds to the needs of society. However, the lack of science funding could limit the body’s success, commentators said. Under the Agenda 2063 strategy, many African governments have committed to raise science spending to one per cent of GDP (gross domestic product), but this is not really happening, said Henry Roman, the director for environmental services and technologies at South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology.
“We know what the problems are that we need to solve and we have a plan to solve them,” he said.
“But without finance we won’t achieve what is in the document,” Roman added, referring to the 2024 strategy.