In this IEG Project Lessons series, we take a close look at the World Bank Group’s projects to assess what has worked, what didn’t, and why, to better inform future projects and investments.

This brief captures the lessons learned from evaluating the Uganda Millennium Science Initiative. To read the full evaluation,

download the report.

Context

The World Bank lent its support to Uganda to help improve the quality of its science and technology. The Ugandan government has prioritized progress in science and technology as it aspires to build a knowledge-based economy.

Between 2004 and 2013, Uganda made steady economic progress with the annual rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP) ranging from 6 percent to 10 percent, except in 2012 when it declined to 3 percent. Poverty also declined over the past decade from 51 percent in 2006 to 37 percent in 2013, according to World Bank indicators.

Science and technology is a priority for the Ugandan government as it aspires to build a knowledge-based economy through investing in homegrown science and technology (S&T) graduates and research programs. At the time of project preparation, several challenges were apparent such as few science programs, a particularly low number of science and technology graduate students, limited national funding for science and technology research, and no system to improve conditions for research.

Millennium Science Initiative

The objectives of the Millennium Science Initiative Project (2007–2013) were to help Ugandan universities and research institutes to produce more and better qualified science and engineering graduates, as well as higher quality and more relevant research. It also aimed to help firms increase their productivity in order to expand science and technology-led growth.

The project set up a science and technology funding facility and worked on three areas: outreach, institutional strengthening, and project monitoring and evaluation (M&E).

The principles of the funding facility were to support open, transparent, and rule-bound competition for resource allocation as well as merit-based selection of research proposals by the Technical Committee. The Committee was composed of eight internationally recognized researchers—half of whom were Ugandan. The grants supported research and created or upgraded science undergraduate programs with the objective of increasing the number of science and technology graduates and more relevant and better quality research.

The number of active researchers in Uganda more than quadrupled over the life of the project from158 to 700 between 2007 and 2012. The project supported student researchers who participated in research teams (57 graduate and 33 doctorate students). Research was aligned with priority areas within Uganda with a particular focus on agriculture. The number of students enrolled in science and technology increased to over 6,000 students. Scientists visited 86 secondary schools in central, eastern, northern and western Uganda over the course of the project. The School Visit Program brought awareness of science- and technology-related careers to young people.

Challenges

The project faced certain shortcomings. While the project received high-level government support, delays occurred in follow-up actions by the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development. Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) implemented the competitive grant fund well, but lapses arose in procurement. The procurement staff had no prior experience with World Bank procurement procedures or other international organizations. To address the issue, the project preparation facility provided intensive capacity building through a consultant

Yet, procurement challenges persisted, causing long delays. Even though additional officers were hired, delays occurred during each grant round. Some of the delays were outside the control of the implementing agency, such as the time (six months) for the Tax Office to clear scientific equipment, which were tax exempt. In many cases, grantees did not provide the specificity of detail to complete the orders, and some grantees were tardy with their requests. Because the implementing agency decided to procure for all grantees together, grants were delayed because the weakest link set the pace.

While all those who were interviewed complained about the impact of the delays, they acknowledged that they should have been anticipated in the planning timeline.
 
Further, inaccuracy emerged during data collecting process. Even though the project collected data on the employment of science and technology graduates, and on firms’ innovation, it failed to reflect the changes after the program was restructured. For example, indicators were not dropped when the project continued to fund only one internship instead of multiple internships.

Lessons

  1. It is possible to establish and implement a world-class science research fund in a low income country.
  2. An appropriate cost-sharing agreement is needed at entry to ensure the program would be maintained by the government.
  3. The promotion of a knowledge-based economy requires involving several ministries as well as the private sector.
  4. A research fund is a viable mechanism to increase research and create programs for science and technology graduates, but graduates benefitted hugely when they received capacity building and technical assistance.
  5. Requiring data collection for grants may also yield better impact or, at a minimum, a clearer understanding of what was achieved.
  6. Given the low numbers of Ugandan women scientists, it is necessary to address barriers that limit their participation and promote their inclusion.

Download the full project performance assessment report (PPAR)

Read more about the Uganda Millennium Science Initiative

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