Project is advancing HE network connectivity on continent

The funding support that the European Union (EU) has given to creating, consolidating and interconnecting educational networks in Africa is yielding results, among others, through efforts to advance open science.

The €27 million (about US$29 million) to support the AfricaConnect project, which in turn provides the internet infrastructure to drive initiatives such as the African Open Science Platform and support education and research institutions with affordable network infrastructure, is currently in its third phase and marked its 10th anniversary in 2021.

As such, with the help of AfricaConnect3, much has been achieved in higher education, said Massimo Mina at the 8th West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) annual conference of stakeholders in Accra on 16 March 2023. Mina is the head of cooperation of the EU’s office in Ghana.

Mina said that, when the project is completed, it will have supplied meaningful connectivity to more than 1,700 institutions and more than four million end users.

WACREN provides connectivity infrastructure and services for the West and Central African research and education community for development. AfricaConnect3 is also delivered locally by other regional research networks, including UbuntuNet Alliance in Southern and Eastern Africa and the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN), with support from GÉANT, which is a pan-European data network for the research and education community.

Strong partnerships needed

Mina said, as part of the global gateway strategy, the EU aims at fostering its digital partnership with Africa by promoting access to affordable broadband connectivity and physical infrastructure.

“A key objective is to support science research and innovation in the educational system and to establish strong links between Europe and Africa in these sectors.”

Mina said the EU is committed to supporting the digital transformation of education and research and innovation centres in Africa and the capacity of national research and regional educational networks to deliver their mandate to their institutions.

This, in turn, will help to advance open science.

Open science makes the recording of science, its evolving stock of knowledge, ideas and possibilities accessible and free to all – irrespective of geography, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic circumstances. It makes the data and evidence of science accessible and reusable by all, subject to constraints of safety, security and privacy.

A pilot study for a pan-African Open Science Platform (AOSP) was launched in December 2016 with the support of the South African Department of Science and Innovation and in collaboration with the Academy of Science of South Africa and the South African National Research Foundation.

AfricaConnect3 provides internet infrastructure to AOSP as it endeavours to “position African scientists at the cutting edge of data-intensive science by stimulating interactivity and creating opportunity through the development of efficiencies of scale, building critical mass through shared capacities, and amplifying impact through a commonality of purpose and voice”.

Mainstreaming STI

Ghana’s minister of environment, science, technology, and innovation, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, said Africa’s contribution to science has been underrated over the years and there is, therefore, the need for African academics and researchers to look back on the past to see what they can do to be energised to contribute to scientific knowledge.

He said his ministry has embarked on a number of initiatives with relevant organisations to take advantage of open science.

In line with this, he said a master plan has been put together to fill in the gaps that have been identified in the pursuit of science, technology, and innovation (STI) over the next 10 years, stating that, “key to this is the involvement of strategic actors, including higher education and research institutions together with the private sector, through the strengthening of these partnerships”.

Afriyie said it is the vision of the Ghanaian government to place STI at the centre of the country’s socio-economic development and it hopes to achieve this through the mainstreaming of STI in all sectors of the economy.

The chairperson of the board of the Ghanaian Academic and Research Network (GARNET), Professor Clifford Tagoe, said the network currently has 27 universities and research institutions in their group, which has enabled academics and researchers “to collaborate and explore great as well as ground-breaking research development in various fields”.

Tagoe said there was a need to work together to leverage technology to enhance teaching and knowledge.