Authored by Nana Oye Akuffo
Research Development Officer
Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana
The research administrator lives one day at a time, serving as a troubleshooter, mediator, peacemaker, and an initiator. As a research administrator (RA) of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, work revolves around the cradle to the grave of sponsored projects. Primarily, the RA is expected to lead the efforts to increase effectiveness and research productivity by promoting the use of best practices in research administration. However, research administration in Higher Education Institutes (HEI) in the African setting is quite different from that of the foreign organizations and poses some challenges.
One major snag of research administration in African institutions is inadequate staff skilled in grants administration and management. Due to the multi-tasking nature of research administration, a team of well-skilled and dedicated staff is required to run the office. However, due to the lack of professional development for staff, only a few people are trained in best practices of research administration. Management of grants from multiple donor agencies requires frequent training and refresher courses. However, most African institutions are unable to fund such training for research support staff.
In addition to this, institutional and donor agencies’ policies often conflict, and this is a major hindrance to effective grant management. Usually, in such cases, the policy of the donor agency overrides that of the Institute, especially for the sponsored projects. Situations such as this, however, creates discomfort for management of the Institute. Policies on travel, overhead charges, and audit fees are some areas of conflict for the Institute and the donor agency.
Another area of challenge is the lack of commitment of research faculty members to issues relating to donor agencies. For instance, most of them fail to read in detail Notice of Awards, agreements, MoUs, etc. and therefore are not well-informed of the terms and references involved. The bulky size of some grant policy statements of donor agencies also discourages them from reading and referring to it when the need arises. Most faculty members are not updated on the frequent changes in the policies of donor agencies and have difficulty understanding some unfamiliar terminologies of donor agencies. These challenges inhibit effective interaction between the research administrator and the faculty members.
Ray of hope
In 2018, I was awarded the maiden SRAI RAMP scholarship which offered me the opportunity to attend an in-house training at the Yale Office for Sponsored Projects (OSP). The interactions with the various sub-units under the office exposed me to the hidden fact that most of the challenges being faced by African institutions are also challenges to the foreign institutions. The training was, therefore, an avenue to share ideas and develop realistic strategies for resolving these issues. Opportunities such as the RAMP scholarship is one avenue to partner with Institutions who are advanced in research administration best practices and learn from their success stories. For us from the African institutions, we always welcome such benefits. A day at a time means that the research administrator must be ready at all times to address any challenge that arises in a particular moment. Tools and strategies to enhance the research administrator's capacity are therefore essential to promote effective research administration.
Authored by Lisa Mosley
Executive Director, Office of Sponsored Projects
The experience of hosting our colleagues from the University of Ghana was a great opportunity for us to share our knowledge and expertise, and to pay it forward to another institution and their staff. Research Administrators hold a passion and core value of using their skill set to advance research. Participating in this program allowed us to exercise that passion outside the confines of our institution. We also established a solid information exchange network that will support and enhance our future collaborations.
Apply for the 2019 RAMP scholarship here!