Research and Education Networking Unit
The integration of ICT into teaching, learning, research, information dissemination and management activities has been a priority issue in African higher education for many years. Among the many initiatives in this regard, the AAU initiated an ICT project in 2001 under the title, “Study on the Use and Application of Information and Communication Technologies in Higher Education Institutions in Africa,” with the limited objective of creating a toolkit for the institutional self-assessment of ICT maturity.
Under its Strategic Plan 2003-10 and following a very strong mandate issued by the 11th General Conference of the AAU held in Cape Town, South Africa, in February 2005, AAU had to establish role as coordinator of the many ICT initiatives currently underway.
Matters were taken a step further at the 3rd International Workshop on Open Access which was sponsored by the Swedish International Cooperation Agency, the International Development Research Centre and the United Nations' ICT Task Force, in Maputo, Mozambique in May 2005, when participants, as well as donor agencies active in ICT initiatives in Africa agreed on the need for coordination and the role of the AAU at the continental level.
The Association formed an Research and Education Networking Unit to act as a focal point in relation to the many initiatives in relation to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in education and research networking, currently under way in Africa.
The principal role of the Education and Research Networking Unit will be to:
- Facilitate national research and education networking, and support collective action, especially in relation to increased access to cheaper connectivity;
- Develop a 'clearinghouse' of information on ICT and research and education networking initiatives, trends, opportunities, and good practice in Africa and globally, as well as relevant expertise and funding sources;
- Raise awareness among institutional leaders, network members, policy-makers, donors, and NGOs and promote knowledge exchange and experience sharing about issues and trends in ICT and research and education networking;
- Develop and disseminate advocacy material on open access to information, low cost bandwidth, and national and sub-regional networking, as well as participating in effective advocacy and lobbying by and on behalf of African knowledge institutions;
African universities and researchers are often working in a silo model, insulated from regional actors and drivers of funding and requirements. Through establishing low cost high quality networks a platform for generative discourse can be created leading to improved policy advice, more effective cross pollination of best practices and lessons learned as well as encouraging an affinity towards cost sharing and partnership engagement models.
National Research and Education Networks are national organizations representing groups of tertiary education institutions whose mandate includes improving connectivity for its members. In several cases these organizations are also involved with other priorities but all of them are actively involved with Internet connectivity
Other benefits would include:
- An increase in African research material on the Internet – content that is directly relevant to the socio-economic development of African environments.
- Improved educational standards of African universities. By accessing the same research materials, students will be able to make meaningful contribution to their areas of research.
- Literature searches should be at the fingertips of the researchers. Today, in many cases they have to submit searches via fax or postal mail to a literature search service, incurring both cost and significant delays. This is analogous to the research environment in the developed world 20-25 years ago.
- Enhanced peer review processes (both participation in reviewing and submissions) that need to be facilitated through electronic communications networks
- Increased collaboration and partnerships among individuals and research institutions and enabling regional comparative studies with localised partners.
- Real time collaboration with other international researchers using video conferencing. This aspect is very crucial, especially in Medical research centres where critical theatre procedures can be conducted with the participation of other international experts:
- Enhanced institutional effectiveness
- Enabling regional centres of competences for local issues