A seven person- strong delegation from ESSENCE (Enhancing Support for Strengthening the Effectiveness of National Capacity Efforts), paid Makerere University a two-day visit to as part of site visits made to health research institutions funded by the agencies in the loose group. The funding agencies under ESSENCE include International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Wellcome Trust, Sida, WHO, among others.
Mr. Garry Aslanyan from TDR WHO Geneva said that under ESSENCE, these major donors in the health research sector came together so that they can talk to each other more and share experiences as well as find areas where they can work together. This particular visit was focused on research management and how the funding agencies can work as partners.
The delegation met several university officials starting with the Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Ddumda-Ssentamu, the University Secretary, Mr. David Kahunda Muhwezi, the Bursar Mr. Joshua Karamagi, the Internal Auditor Mr. Charles Barugahare, Senior Legal Officer Mr. Goddy Muhumuza-Muhanguzi, Director Research and Graduate Training as well as other personnel relevant to research management in the College of Health Sciences.
During the meeting with the University officials, the key areas of discussion that emerged included:
Research costing and the challenges grant recipient institutions are facing in this area
Accountability for research funds especially overheads
Coordination of research projects in the University in the absence of a robust database. This has created duplication of research projects in the University
Staffing challenges in the University across all Colleges and units that affects the productivity of some members of staff in terms of research; the teaching load is heavy
Financial constraints in the University that have hampered the creation and activation of the Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research)
Some Principal Investigators referring to research funds as ├ö├ç├┐my money├ö├ç├û thus making monitoring of in-flow and out-flow of funds at the centre, problematic
Procurement delays that are quite frustrating and can have serious effect on the progress of research in the health sciences where procurement of reagents is sensitive to delays
Donor demands to open separate bank accounts for each research project
The donors mentioned that the University needs;
- To procure and put in place a robust financial management system which could be the solution to the demand to open separate accounts,
- Designating a person at the College level who can give oversight, identify overlaps and be strategic about what funding to apply for and get much more mileage from donor funding. They emphasised the need to stop being protective about donors and open up
- Donors also agreed that they need to come together and discuss how to help with the process of securing Intellectual Property Rights, an area where Makerere University is still weak.
- While many donors agree that they should pay overheads, the issue of transparency on how overhead funds are used was emphasised. ├ö├ç┬úThis is where donors get stuck; there is need for overhead tracking, there is need for a strong policy on this├ö├ç├ÿ, Ms. Katri Ponjolainen Yap, of the Swedish Embassy Kampala noted.
The University officials emphasised the need;
- To have funding agencies respect the laws and policies of recipient countries,
- Donors working together to create influence in areas like procurement, transparency and accountability for funds,
- Increase funding to the humanities and social sciences, to balance the equation of productivity in terms of research across the University
- Support the dissemination of research findings and outputs to eliminate duplication of projects
The implication of this development among donors is that recipient research institutions will have to seriously think about the formation of research groups around research themes of interest and regular sharing of research proposals as well as awarded projects.
ESSENCE on health research (Enhancing Support for Strengthening the Effectiveness of National Capacity Efforts) is a collaborative initiative on the part of funding agencies to scale up research capacity in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). ESSENCE is located at the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TRD), World Health Organisation.
Recently ESSENCE carried out a survey of donors and recipients aimed to determine what core support research institutions receive and whether they are able to cover their expenses with current institutional and grant support.
Why ESSENCE? There is strong agreement within the international development and research communities that funding should be aligned with national priorities. The development of a common framework for a diverse group of funders who support a variety of initiatives in a number of different countries and work with a range of partners is a challenge. ESSENCE members embrace the principles of donor harmonization and country alignment and also harmonise their actions and procedures in order to facilitate complementarity among funders and to reduce administrative overload for recipients of funding.