Strengthening institutional research administration in Uganda: a case study on developing collaborations among academic and research institutions.

Author:Kakande, Nelson
 
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Introduction

Over the last 15 years, there has been an increase in funding for research and training in Africa. Despite a research environment characterized by the presence of several funded projects at academic and research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, the pre/post grant award process is deficient in most of these institutions. For instance, a 2010 survey by Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Uganda, on the available information on current and past grants, identified that funding details were available for only one-third of the 58 active grants, with weak systems, policies and infrastructure to manage grants (Nankinga et al., 2011). While all funding agencies have stringent pre/post award guidelines and reporting regulations that require researchers to have up-to-date information at all times, conformity among awarded institutions is ever-growing, and possible irregularities must be handled in a timely manner (Gardner et al., 2006; Adams & Pimple, 2005; Deyhle et al., 1992). However, grants recipient institutions, investigators, and research administrators in Uganda have limited experience in pre-and post-award management, fiscal accountability and scientific reporting requirements for NIH and other international funding agencies. Indeed, an evaluation survey of collaborative strategies to strengthen research administration at Makerere University (collaboration with Swedish International Development Assistance [SIDA] -Sarec) found that key budget information was lacking in most projects, and that the majority of Principal Investigators (Pls) were weak with respect to foreign and grant management processes due to a lack of a central grants management system (Freeman et al, 2009). Hence, financial and material resources from grants to academic institutions are critical for supporting faculty members' research efforts. (Mullen et al., 2008, Garvin et al., 2008, Gumport & Spom, 1999)

The global complexity and competitiveness in the research field, the prevalence of interdisciplinary research, the local and international interest in research combined with diverse stakeholders of various research interests, as well as the dynamic research funding environment create a challenging research environment for scientists in Africa. In many sub-Saharan African countries there is a weak infrastructure for research; the research administration and legislative framework has not kept pace with international trends such as ethical conduct of research, regulatory compliance, dissemination of research findings and material, and intellectual property rights. This has contributed to institutional failure to write, submit, win, and manage competitive research or project grants. Research administration is key in instituting scholarship and strengthening research behavior at academic and research institutions (Atkinson et al., 2007; Cole, 2007; Langley, 2007). Likewise, faculty education in what is required to write, win and manage competitive grants is critical to developing and maintaining research programs and attracting external grants and contracts. (Rice, 2000)

The International Extramural Associates Research Development Award (IEARDA) Program was created to develop institutional capacity to support external research grant proposals, provide administrative structure to manage grant awards, and increase biomedical and behavioral research at academic and research institutions outside the United States of America. The NIH established the Extramural Associates Program to produce a cadre of academic research administrators who could promote the participation of institutions in rigorous biomedical and behavioral research programs. The program is administered within the Division of Special Populations of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). As part of the award requirements, the participating institution nominates an International Extramural Associate (IEA) who is trained in grant processes used by the NIH and other federal agencies to support biomedical and behavioral research and training. The program instructs the Extramural Associates (EAs) in the role of academic research administrators in research development. IEARDA is designed to stimulate the building of research infrastructure and development, and to facilitate a sustainable capacity in research administration at institutions with limited resources for implementing fundable biomedical and behavioral research. This article presents a case study of how the IEARDA grant has utilized research collaborations to strengthen research administrative infrastructure at partner institutions, namely Joint Clinical Research Centre, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda Christian University, Mukono and Ndejje University, as well as to bridge the gap between research administrators and faculty at the partner institutions. Table 1 shows the short-term training that the IEA has to accomplish during the course of the award. Once the NIH residency is complete, EAs possess a working knowledge of federal support for biomedical and behavioral research and training, and skills in preparing research applications and post-award management, and are prepared to expand research infrastructure and development at their collaborative institutions.

In Uganda, the United States NIH is one of the largest funding agencies for research and project grants. Other research funding agencies include World Health Organization Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO/ TDR); Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA); Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA); European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP); The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Norwegian Forum for Global Health Research (NORAD); Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM); Fogarty International Centre (FIC); Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA); U.K. Department for International Development (DFID); United Kingdom (UK) Medical Research Council (MRC); U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Wellcome Trust, and the World Bank. Many research institutions in Uganda are struggling to establish a strong research and grants administration infrastructure. Such efforts are evident in all research and academic institutions in Uganda, notably the newly established academic institutions such as Ndejje, Mbarara and Mukono Universities, although all these are at difference levels of growth and research emphasis. A needs assessment that we conducted at the four collaborating institutions involved in the IEARDA grant (Ndejje, Mukono, Mbarara and JCRC) identified limited skills in grantsmanship (grants writing, peer review, pre/post awards management, mentorship, communicating research findings, utilizing facility data to improve services delivery, responsible conduct of research), and an imprecise regulatory framework. Whereas Mukono and Ndejje universities identified greater need for research infrastructural improvement, JCRC and Mbarara identified mainly the need for human resource development in the area of grant writing, administration and management.

Methods and Procedures

The principle functions of research administration, depending on complexity of the research grant and the institution's management structures, include handling capacity building and marketing, financial management, project management; proposal development and submission; intellectual property rights and technology transfer; research administration support; and award negotiation and acceptance. The IEARDA grant advocates for fulfillment of these functions by the Office of Research and Development (ORD) or a designated department based on respective institutions management structures. This situation created the need to establish a one-stop centre (ORD) to coordinate all research-related issues at respective institutions. This was born out of the fact that a strong central oversight was needed to make sure that grants and other research activities comply to international funding agencies regulations and national guidelines.

The IEARDA is a five-year grant funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), with the goal to develop cadres of research administrators to address current and future NIH and other funding agencies' grants policies and procedures, and to strengthen the research and grant administrative infrastructure at these institutions. The specific objectives of the IEARDA grant are to strengthen the research training capacity and administrative infrastructure of the Office of Research and Development (ORD) at JCRC and partner institutions, to assist affiliated academic and research institutions in standardizing and completing mandatory registration necessary for NIH and other agencies' electronic grant applications, to foster collaboration among different disciplines so that trainees can develop capacity to manage multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, and to strengthen the capacity of the ORD personnel to spearhead the translation of research findings into practice and policy advocacy. In addition, IEARDA enables the PI to acquire knowledge and skills for NIH grantsmanship so as to effectively administer NIH and other agencies awards. Below is a brief on each of the four IEARDA partner institutions.

Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC)

JCRC is an HIV/AIDS care and research institution located in East Africa, Uganda, established in 1990 to respond to and provide a scientific approach for the national HIV/ AIDS challenge. The JCRC is a not-for-profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), which was initiated by a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defense, and Makerere University...

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