GLOBAL: AUF launches digital projects in 50th year

While celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, the French-speaking University Agency, continues to launch new projects and partnerships. The latest include an international online journal specialising in ICTs that provides an outlet for young scientists to publish their research; a link to a vast digital library for students in developing countries; and an application for an interactive encyclopaedia focused on Africa.

The AUF is an international association based in Montreal, bringing together 774 French-speaking universities in 91 countries.

It promotes the francophone academic and scientific community through support for its members' development strategies and the production of new generations of teachers, researchers, experts and professionals, and works in partnership with international bodies such as UNESCO and non-government organisations, and business and the private sector.

It has a budget of more than EUR40,000 (US$57 million) contributed by governments - mostly France, but also Canada, Québec, Belgium, Switzerland and Cameroon - and each year awards more than 2,000 bursaries through its mobility programme.

One of the AUF's major current projects is helping to rebuild Haiti's universities following the devastating earthquake in January 2010.

This month the agency officially launched a new online publication Frantice, which aims to promote ICTs in education and training throughout the world, and to support the publication of scientific works in French, especially those of young researchers, on the use of ICT in all forms of education. Submitted papers must pass rigorous examination by a committee of experts.

"We hope Frantice will stimulate North-South exchanges on research, and provide an area for research exchanges within the North, as well as within the South," said Dominique Oillo, AUF's scientific director.

"In a sector packed with new questions on education and training, in regions that are well equipped as well as those that are poorly equipped technologically, these questions are basically linked to the development needs of certain French-speaking communities which come up against difficulties of accessing education."

Frantice has its roots in the 'Scientific Days'conference organised with AUF support by the research network Res@tice in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in November 2009.

The conference agreed to set up the journal, and 18 months of preparation followed including the appointment of review committees, creation of a website and calls for contributions. Last December the AUF signed an agreement with the University of Limoges in France which produces and publishes the online review.

The first issue appeared in July 2010, comprising five articles on the Res@tice conference. The second in December covered developments and prospects for ICTs in schools and extra-curricular activities, and included a case study on student use of internet and ICTs at the Catholic University of West Africa in Lomé, Togo. The third, to be published in June, will be devoted to 'New ways of learning?'

So far, apart from contributions from Belgium and France, published papers are all from African countries. The articles are in French with abstracts translated into English.

In another initiative starting this month the AUF is enabling access to the French-language version of ScholarVox, a vast online multidisciplinary university library created by publisher Cyberlibris.

Teachers and students can link to it from the AUF's 43 digital campuses, located in 40 countries. These are mostly in francophone Africa, including Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar and Mali; and also in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam), the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria), and Eastern Europe (Romania, Moldavia). There is also a centre in Haiti.

Users have at their disposal a catalogue of 15,000 publications from nearly 300 publishers, which they can consult online with no time limit from a PC, Mac or iPad. They can create 'thematic bookshelves', annotate books, share notes and comments, and set up reading groups.

Also this month, the AUF and publisher Hachette Livre International launched an application, Alter Dico, described as "the first encyclopaedia of common and proper nouns focused on Africa and French-speaking countries, illustrated in real time by its users on iphone".

An offshoot of the Hachette-AUF Dictionnaire Universel, the interactive and upgradeable application contains 130,000 words, 10,000 of them 'africanisms' or African names. Users can contribute their photographs to illustrate entries.

Meanwhile, the AUF reaches 50 in September, and is marking its half century with events throughout the year organised by its regional bureaux around the world.

Among major celebrations, in July there is a meeting of heads of francophone African universities in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, which will focus on 'University, Citizenship, Performance'; and a big international conference will take place at AUF headquarters in Montreal, Canada, on 'The French-speaking World of Knowledge; A player in development'.

An international conference in Brussels on 'Science and Society' will bring together universities of the North and South to share best practices for innovation transfer through university-business partnerships.