Tanzania’s government has offered scientists TZS50 million (roughly US$22,000) if they can publish their research in a well-known journal. Researchers had until the end of last month to apply for the scheme.
A total of TZS1 billion ($423,575) has been allocated annually for the Research Excellence Award. It aims to boost publications from Tanzania’s researchers in “internationally renowned and the most reputable journals”, says Maulilio Kipanyula, director of science, technology and innovation at Tanzania’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Dar es Salaam.
Researchers could apply for one of the awards for publications in the natural sciences, mathematics or medicine in the financial year 2022/2023. Kipanyula told Nature that Tanzania is following South Africa, Ireland, Australia and Pakistan in offering cash for publications. Three years ago, China ended the practice after many decades of paying researchers for publishing in well-known journals.
Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University in Atlanta who studies how monetary incentives affect publishing, says “it does not come as a surprise to see that Tanzania has joined the list of countries offering such incentives to faculty”.
To be eligible, researchers will have had to publish papers in the highest 10% of journals, as measured by impact factor in selected disciplines. Papers could be original research, secondary data analyses or systematic reviews; or meta-analyses. “This will improve global rankings of Tanzanian scientists and higher-learning institutions,” Kipanyula adds.
More than 80% of Tanzania’s research publications are the result of international collaborations, according to a 2019 report commissioned by the UK government. The award guidelines state that, in such cases, only one eligible author will be allowed to submit an application. If there is more than one Tanzanian author, they will be encouraged to share the prize.
Some have welcomed the scheme as a much-needed incentive for scientists to conduct research in a country with limited resources, where most academics are focused on teaching and where the average monthly salary for a professor is around TZS1,990,000, around $844. But others say the funds could have been better spent.
Tanzania spent roughly 0.5% of its gross domestic product on research and development in 2022. Moreover, the country relies on foreign aid for more than 50% of its national research expenditure.
“Getting a publication accepted in high-impact factor journals requires a lot of effort,” says Frank Kagoro, a Tanzanian epidemiologist and African Regional Manager at the Global Health Network, University of Oxford, UK. “Initiatives like this may encourage scientific development, rigour and competition which can also be a catalyst to address local issues and improve science and development,” he explains.
However, Haruna Kanaabi, a human-rights researcher at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, argues that awards for papers in well-known journals are most likely to reward those that are already established in their careers, whereas Tanzania’s government should be encouraging those at earlier career stages. Celebrating those “that have made it up at the top is a nice gesture but misplaced”, he says.
Aneth David, a microbiologist at the University of Dar es Salaam, agrees. She adds that the government needs to ease institutional bureaucracy and allow Tanzania’s researchers more freedom to choose their areas of study.
“It is no secret that laws and regulations around research and scholarly communication have become tighter over the past few years and have stifled academic freedom,” she says.
“There won’t be high-quality papers in high-impact journals if scientists are not free to choose what they study and be free to do so based on scientific principles, not politicians’ whims,” she adds. “A sustainable internal funding mechanism would go a long way to allow researchers to pursue their curiosity, generate knowledge and eventually publish.”
Stephan says that the initiative seems to differ from those of other countries in that it requires the publications to address national research areas stipulated by public-sector agencies such as the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology. This, she says, raises questions such as “to what extent will high-impact journals be interested in publishing research in [Tanzania’s] national research areas”.