UbuntuNet Alliance and AAU sign Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

With an aim of cementing the working relationship in research and education networking in Africa, UbuntuNet Alliance and the Association of African Universities (AAU) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The two parties agree to work together to promote research and education networking in Africa, based on optical fibre and any alternative access to technology.

The MOU, which will run for a period of 2 years, was signed by Professor Zimani Kadzamira, Chairperson of the Alliance and Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, the Secretary General of AAU.

The MOU with the AAU is the second in a series of the UbuntuNet’s efforts in building partnerships with other organisations. In April 2008, the Alliance signed an MOU with the IEEAF.

Dowload the MOU here

Zomba Strategic Plan Revised

Member NRENs of UbuntuNet Alliance, together with the Board met for two days at Giraffe Ocean View Hotel in Dar es Salaam on 11th – 12th September 2008 to revisit the Zomba Strategic Plan, which was celebrating its second birthday and in need of an overhaul. The process was ably facilitated by Professor Beatus Kundi of the University of Dar es Salaam and proudly hosted by TERNET, the Tanzania NREN.

The new Rolling Strategic Plan (RSP) of UbuntuNet Alliance that was developed is a key management framework that sets out the future vision of the institution as well as a set of broad programmes, projects and initiatives for achieving the vision. It will be implemented in 5 years, 2009 to 2013, but revised every 2 years to capture emerging issues.

Participants at the strategic plan review and update developed the following key result areas for the Alliance to achieve by 2013:

  • Development and Capacity building for NRENs;
  • High speed and affordable connectivity;
  • Institutional sustainability;
  • Conducive policy and regulatory environment;
  • Interconnections within Africa and globally; and
  • Support content and research netw

TERNET Officially Launched

TERNET, the Tanzanian NREN was officially launched on 10th September 2008 by the Deputy Minister of Education, Dr G. Kabaka. Showing his excitement during the launch, the chairperson of the TERNET Council, Professor Tolly Mbwette underscored the central focus of TERNET as being directed towards improvement of education and research, which will involve all institutions of higher learning through facilitation of ICT infrastructure, E-learning, Education Management Support, and ICT capacity building. UbuntuNet Alliance Directors witnessed the event.

For more details visit the TERNET website, www.ternet.or.tz. 

NEPAD Revisits Kigali Protocol

NRENs and UbuntuNet Alliance have to keep current with the cable initiatives in the region. Having attended the Kigali Protocol Meeting for the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure for Africa meeting in August 2006 and the Johannesburg consultation in 2007, Mrs Ngwira again attended the Technical Meeting held in Lilongwe on 25th – 26th September 2008. She was invited partly in that MAREN is one of the three International Gateway Licence Holders in Malawi, the others being the power company, ESCOM and MTL – Malawi Telecomm Limited.  She suggested an amendment in the definitions in Article 1 which was accepted: that under “Authorised Service Providers”, the academic example should be changed from Academic Institutions to “Academic and Research Networks”.

The purpose of the Lilongwe meeting was to revise the Protocol document to take into account the various concerns that were raised.  “Wording of the protocol had to be changed to de-link it from EASSy but make it refer to any submarine cable.”

Sudanese Universities Information Network (SUIN): Opportunities and Challenges

By Dr Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman

Sudanese universities have a total enrolment of about 600 000 students, with more than 13,000 staff members in 27 public universities, 45 private universities and colleges, and 14 technical institutions. The ICT community at these universities and enthusiastic users exerted great pressure to acquire their own network. In 2005 the Sudanese Ministry of Higher Education responded to these needs by establishing SUVL – Sudanese University Virtual Library – which was later expanded to the Sudanese Universities Information Network (SUIN). The objectives of the project are:

  • Provide connectivity between the Sudanese Universities and higher educational institutions in a Wide Area Network;
  • Strengthen communication and collaboration between and among the research, library and educational communities, nationally, regionally, and internationally;
  • Build a virtual library for the shared contents of the universities;
  • Offer lifelong learning opportunities;
  • Provide the required tools to modernize the Sudanese universities management systems.

The program went through various steps of development and modeling to arrive finally at a five phase plan that was developed by the ICT committee and experts at the Ministry of Higher Education.  Phase I included the setup of the IP connectivity between the Sudanese Universities. The networking devices (i.e., routers and DTUs) have been provided to 31 universities. The universities connected to SUIN cover a large geographical area (Figure 1). Because of the low budget for the project in 2005, the connectivity was very slow and universities were connected by 128 kbps data link using Frame Relay technology to a central router at the University of Khartoum.  A 4 Mbps Internet bandwidth was provided.

In 2006, the SUIN project started its Phase II which focused on content. A library website was designed to provide both local and international content.  Since higher education in Sudan started about a hundred years ago, Sudan is very rich in local content. However, there was a need to gather information on its amount and availability. Sudanese librarians worked hard to have their catalogs in electronic form.  CDS-ISIS open source software developed by UNESCO is used in almost all libraries in Sudan: To provide these databases online, there was a need to convert the format of the ISIS database to another open source suitable for the virtual library, SUVL (www.suvl.edu.sd) that now has  250,000 records in its online catalog (theses, books, periodicals). The database is taken from 6 universities which are considered the oldest and biggest ones. The librarians worked in the project and helped in unifying the entry sheet of their catalogs as the first step towards developing a union catalog in Sudan. For international contents, the virtual library provided links to some open access databases covering different subject areas.

Phase III started in 2007, focusing on upgrading of SUIN to optical fiber technology. The Network is based on existing optical fiber owned by a private company (Sudatel). By May 2008 10 universities were connected to the optical fiber. Links of 2 Mbps are provided for the connectivity of each university to the network and 15 Mbps is provided for the Internet bandwidth of all the Universities.  This bandwidth is paid for by the regulator.

SUIN plans to sign a contract with the telecom provider for low prices for the fiber connectivity.

User perspective

Networking is a new concept in the Sudanese higher education community. Therefore utilization of SUIN/SUVL varies tremendously between and even within universities. Some universities never utilized this resource, instead establishing their independent connectivity.  Others grasped the opportunity to provide their campuses with the available services, but complained of the hopeless connectivity. Now the situation has improved in the ten universities that have been connected by fiber. However the connectivity, from the user perspective, is still not satisfactory.

Lessons learned

  • In our situation starting to connect the universities with a network though slow has been a landmark in the history of higher education in the Sudan.
  • Balancing the demands for higher bandwidth from then ICT and user communities with the high cost of bandwidth from the commercial providers is a perpetual challenge.
  • The regulator is the main funding body for SUIN/SUVL which is a real lesson to learn.

Challenges

  • Improve bandwidth with acceptable prices
  • Complete the fiber networking to all higher learning and research institutions
  • Keeping the parties supporting the project motivated until SUIN or the universities themselves can take over

Opportunities

  • The National Regulator is the driving force for the project
  •  The e-government project is a guarantee for continuation
  • Fiber will soon extend to southern Sudan and will interconnect with Uganda

For further details, contact Dr Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman

A Look at Content Networks

 As we get nearer to having the fast network we aspire to, those members of our NRENs responsible for Content are gearing up to deliver great things. International content providers will also be able to deliver much richer content than the mainly textual materials that our current bandwidth permits.

    1. Climate Change is an issue affecting us all. One international Content Provider is the National Center for Atmospheric Research (www.ucar.edu/org). Their website is a rich resource on this topic and has a wide variety of educational materials.
    2.  Open Access to EU digital repositories (released 29 September 2008) DRIVER and eIFL.net – Electronic Information for Libraries – have identified demand for cooperation in order to progress and enhance the provision, visibility and application of European research outputs through digital repositories.   DRIVER is a joint initiative of European stakeholders, co-financed by the European Commission, to establish a flexible, robust, and scalable infrastructure for all European and world-wide digital repositories, managing scientific information in an Open Access model increasingly demanded by researchers, funding organisations and other stakeholders.  DRIVER’s mission is to expand its content base, supporting the global research community with high quality research output, including textual research papers and complex forms of scholarly electronic publication.  Rima Kupryte, Director of eIFL.net, said ‘eIFL.net and DRIVER share the vision that research institutions should contribute actively and cooperatively to a global, interoperable, trusted and long-term data and service infrastructure based on Open Access digital repositories. This agreement includes joint approaches to consolidation of national communities for the European repository network and active joint dissemination of best practices of Open Access scholarly communication in countries and regions without such formal policy.’
    3. At the national level, many of our NRENs have Academic or National Library Consortia that serve a number of functions. It is important that the Library Consortia are seen as key players in the NRENs. Let us use the example of MALICO in Malawi (www.malico.mw).  MALICO partners with INASP (www.inasp.info) in licensing over US$3 million of world class e-journal literature for which members contribute a total of approximately US$40,000 per annum. A glance at the website shows the content that is licensed for Malawi. Another activity of INASP is assisting in capacity building in content provision and a number of training courses are carried out annually on topics such as Bandwidth Management, Digital Library Creation, and Management of E-resources. African Journals on-line, AJOL (www.ajol.info) was originally an INASP initiative but is now managed by NISC in South Africa.
    4. eIFL (www.eifl.net) mentioned above assists in content provision, but also builds capacity in Consortium establishment and management, does groundbreaking work in aspects of intellectual property and protection of the Fair Use principle for academic and research access to knowledge, and on Open Access to scientific and research information. INASP and eIFL collaborate in many countries in assisting in building capacity for the development of institutional digital repositories so that we can provide access to our own intellectual property without having to rely on an external host. The Association of African Universities also has a coordinating role in this through the DATAD Theses, which originally was a CD-ROM/Abstract initiative but now aims to facilitate access to full text of African Theses and Dissertations.

Exciting new content iniatives are evolving on an almost daily basis.  Member NRENs  are working hard to provide the network infrastructure.  They are striving   to provide the kind of network that facilitates dynamic content provision and also to collaborate with the content providers. It is hoped that this will bring about a measurable improvement in our education and research output. This is what CORENA  is about.

GLOBAL Project Partners hold 2nd Face to Face Meeting

The second Face to Face meeting of the GLOBAL Project Partners, of which UbuntuNet Alliance is one, took place in Madrid on 10-12th September 2008. The host was Juan Quemada of JSI, the institution responsible for the development of ISABEL software. In addition to the participation of UbuntuNet Alliance, members from Peru, (representing CLARA) Slovenia, Austria, UK and Spain were present. Plans to use ISABEL video conferencing software to make EU events accessible to more remote participants are ongoing. At a local level, some Alliance members are able to use ISABEL to hold interactive meetings with remote sites, www.global-project.eu.

About GLOBAL

GLOBAL – Global Linkage Over BroadbAnd Links is an EU FP7 project that is working towards providing a virtual conference centre using advanced communication technologies and concepts to support the promotion of e-infrastructure topics in Europe and around the world. The main goal of GLOBAL is to allow and help research projects to disseminate their results and training events to a wider audience located in multiple geographical locations through the organization of virtual conferences.

The project is being implemented by a consortium of 7 organisations: Zentrum für Soziale Innovation (ZSI), Austria; Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Spain; Agora Systems S.A. (ASSA), Spain; Cooperación Latino Americana de Redes Avanzadas (CLARA), Uruguay; University College London (UCL), UK; Jozef Stefan Institute (JSI), Slovenia; and UbuntuNet Alliance (UbuntuNet), Malawi.

UbuntuNet CEO at Sida and SPIDER

The Acting CEO of UbuntuNet was invited to share the thinking on the dreams, aspirations and plans of the African research and education community, as crystalised through UbuntuNet, with the Swedish Internal Development Agency, Sida, and the Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions, SPIDER. In two separate workshops, one at Sida headquarters and the other at DSV, there was opportunity for the staff of these key development partners to get a better understanding of the connectivity challenges we face as researchers in Africa, and the determination of UbuntuNet to address them. As pointed out during the very productive discussions, these are challenges we must address as Africans with, or without external help. We however seek external help because that would enable us to achieve our objectives much faster (download full presentation here)

 

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