Two former Vice Chancellors of leading Nigerian Universities and experts in proposal writing have highlighted major features of good proposals that can win academic grants. Professors Adebisi Balogun, a former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure and Valentine Aletor also a former Vice Chancellor of Elizade University, Ilara Mokin and University of Africa, Toru Orua in Bayelsa State tutored academics staff on the requisite skills for writing successful proposals during an in house seminar put together by the Centre for Research and Development on Monday March 15,2021. According to Professor Aletor “good proposal writing is an art that requires that the proponent must be steeped or sufficiently knowledgeable to state clearly the key elements or the essential steps/ingredients that must be found in a good research proposal; recognize/appreciate why and what funders are looking out for and identify the major steps involved in the development of need-driven and or a given research proposal”.
Highlighting the characteristics, the don, a former Director of the Centre for Research and Development (CERAD) said a good research proposal must have a descriptive title with clearly stated objectives with specific content putting in mind the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound).
He stated further that writing a good research proposal requires availability of research technologies with reasonable probability of success and flexibility in research objectives that allows for monitoring of progress. Other features according to Professor Aletor are; a good research proposal is a finite lifespan which must ensure a balance between proposed research and available resources.
Dwelling on available resources, Professor Aletor said “there are limits to resources and what can be achieved with available resources. For example at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Centres such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), etc., there are sub-projects, projects, thrusts, units and programmes. Generally, there is need to match your research proposal with available resources or the level of funding. This calls for proper and realistic budgeting”.
Speaking on a paper titled Adherence to Budgetary Provision: A key to Successful Grant Application, Professor Adebisi Balogun said a researcher need a financial plan for a defined period, strategic plans for activities or events in measurable terms and a summary of intended expenditure along with proposals and how to meet them. Thus, he said there is a need for a plan to show the amount of money available to spend, plan on how to spend within a limited supply and work within the amount allowed to be spent for a particular purpose.
He added that “accepting a brilliant research proposal with a budget section that misfits its research finance is like buying an exquisite item without counting the money paid for it, hence, the funding agencies always give importance to the budget information provided for the research conduction before approving any grant proposal. Professor Balogun cautioned against having an unrealistic budget. According to him, to have an effective budget “include both expenses and revenue, categorize your costs in a way that makes sense, make sure costs tie in your narratives and be realistic about the grant amount you are requesting”.
Both Professors Balogun and Aletor emphasized ethical issue in utilization of funds. They said for the sake of integrity and for future accessibility of grants, it’s important for a researcher to judiciously utilize granted funds for the sake of integrity.
Professor Aletor listed other features of a good research proposal to include writing it in a clear language that can be understood by non-specialists, stating that not all proposal evaluators may belong to the core discipline of the researcher. He added that a good research proposal must be conceptually and ethically sound as well as being morally and culturally acceptable. “The underpinning science/research question must be lucid and unambiguous, ethical issues must be respected, moral and cultural norms must be observed and political correctness considered” he added.
The Convener of the workshop and Director, Centre for Research and Development (CERAD), Professor Ganiyu Oboh said the essence of research is to solve a currently existing problem (applied research), to contribute to the general body of knowledge in a particular area of interest (basic/fundamental research) and to enhance and add value to the career of the researcher.
He said research proposals must be able to proffer solution to myriads of problems in the society. He listed grant awarding bodies to include Academy of Science for Developing World (TWAS), Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA); Alexander von Humboldt (AvH) Foundation; Germany; African Academy of Sciences (AAS) Kenya; Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) China; International Foundation of Sciences (IFS); Department for International Development (DFID) Britain; International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) Britain; International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada and the European Union (EU), while the local ones are Tet Fund, Senate Research Grant and National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA).
Professor Oboh added that FUTA is not doing badly because quite a number of staff have won grants in the past, but emphasized that the University can do better. He said the target is to win 28 grants in the current year. The dons also advocated building a curriculum on Grantsmanship so as to tutor students and staff alike in the area of writing good proposals. They also proposed having a grant writing clinic where research proposals will be assessed. Professor Oboh said CERAD has started something like that with representatives from each School.