SARUA Dialogue Event: Finance and Information Communication Technology in Higher Education

Prof. Zimani and a FriendOn 5-6 August 2010 the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA), in collaboration with the University of Dar-es-Salaam, held a two-day Leadership Dialogue event focusing on Finance and Information Communication Technology in Higher Education.

Among the impressive gathering of 64 participants from 14 countries and 36 universities in the SADC region were Vice Chancellors, Deputy Vice Chancellors and senior university officials responsible for Finance and ICT. They were welcomed by Prof. Yunus Mgaya, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Dar-es-Salaam, and Prof. Pyushi Kotecha, the SARUA Chief Executive.

The dialogue event was designed to ensure that delegates share information and experience within and across these professional domains. The finance programme on the first day considered the topic of “New Directions” regarding “Investment in Higher Education”. The main theme on the second day event was “ICT Infrastructure and Connectivity: New Capacity, New Opportunities”, during which the following six presentations (these include  the Chair and 2 Board Members and an member NREN CEO of UbuntuNet Alliance):

  • Prioritizing Higher Education ICT Connectivity: A SARUA Perspective by Mr. Mark Burke of the SARUA Research and Networking Section
  • Recent Developments in ICT Infrastructure and Connectivity by Mr. Alex Twinomugisha, Regional Director of the Nairobi-based Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI)
  • Increasing Demand for Bandwidth and Processing Power: A View from the Sciences by Dr. Kurt van der Heyden of the Astronomy Department, University of Cape Town
  • Moving Beyond Borders: Strategies for Establishing Regional Higher Education ICT Infrastructure and Connectivity by Prof. Patrick Mangheni, Chief Executive Officer of Research and Education Network of Uganda (RENU), and Dean of Research & Postgraduate Studies, Uganda Christian University
  • Innovative Models for Financing Access to Bandwidth by Dr. Duncan Martin, Chief Executive Officer of Tertiary Education Network of South Africa (TENET)
  • AfricaConnect: Concrete Possibilities by Prof John Kondoro, Vice Chairman of Ta nzania Education and Research Network (TERNET) and Principal, Dar-es-Salaam Institute of Technology.

Members posing for a group photoAccording to the UbuntuNet Alliance Chairperson, Prof. Z. D. Kadzamira, who facilitated the ICT programme, delegates gained an appreciation for the challenges and key issues experienced by their colleagues. The dialogue event concluded that continued collaboration, cooperation and partnership are needed if universities in SADC are to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the arrival of fibre. The papers will be made available on the SARUA Website  (www.sarua.org) in October 2010.
*Submitted by Prof. Zimani Kadzamira, Chairperson: UbuntuNet Alliance

Dr Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman, new Deputy Chair of the Alliance

Dr ImanAt the 17th UbuntuNet Alliance Management Board Meeting held in July 2010, Dr. Iman Abuel Maaly Abdelrahman took up the position of Deputy Chair of the Alliance.  Iman is a founder of SUIN, the Sudanese REN and CEO of Administration of Information Technology and Networks, at University of Khartoum.  Congratulations Iman! We know you will serve the Alliance well in this important position.  We also thank Albert Nsengiyumva, the outgoing Deputy Chair for the 4 years of service and strong and visible representation of the Alliance at high profile events.  Albert is a founder of RwEdNet, the Rwanda NREN, is a founding and is a current Board Member of the Alliance and now is DG of Rwanda Workforce Development Authority. We promise Iman all the support necessary to continue in the tradition set by Albert.

Diaries ready: Lilongwe and Johannesburg are the places to be!

ERINA4Africa and UbuntuNet connect LogosMany readers participated in the 1st and 2nd UbuntuNet-Connect Conferences in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Also Alliance member NREN CEOs and Board participated in the 1st Kigali ERINA4Africa wWorkshop in Kigali, Rawanda in April 2010.  More is in store so get ready! In October and November there are two high visibility events for the UbuntuNet Alliance with different focuses, these are: the 2nd ERINA4Africa Workshop in October and the UbuntuNet-Connect 2010 in November.

The first is the 2nd ERINA4Africa Workshop with the theme Investigating e-Infrastructure Applications of the Future, will take place in Lilongwe, Malawi on 6-7th October 2010. ERINA4Africa is an EU FP7 project.  This workshop promises to be cutting edge, following a similar workshop held in Kigali, Rwanda in April 2010.  The Malawi Minister responsible for ICT, the Director of the new Malawi National Commission for Science and Technology and the Chair of UbuntuNet Alliance will all make presentations on the first day which will be in the beautiful Kumbali Lodge. The ERINA4Africa Consortium team will meet with leaders in policy, research and health service delivery and identify challenges and demonstrate solutions.  There will be several other local presenters on the research challenges facing the region in the next decade.

The second day will be held at Kamuzu College of Nursing with a wider audience from the health sector.  There, presenters will demonstrate  how advanced network technologies can address real challenges for our community, in this case in the health sector. Dr Simon Taylor will present simulations in Accident and Emergency care, Prof Bjorn Pehrson will facilitate a linkup between gastroenterology specialists in Malawi, Rwanda and Sweden via high definition TV (HDTV) to consult and share their knowledge, Dr Bruce Becker will present health research opportunities using Grid technologies.  We are grateful to MTL Malawi who will provide the bandwidth for the HDTV.

The workshop will also include time for reflection, hoping that some more EU FP7 project proposal topic areas can be identified. It could be possible to use the Global Plaza (www.globalplaza.org)to bring in a wider international audience if there were a demand – please contact us at info@ubuntunet.net if you are interested. Unfortunately we do not have sponsorship for accommodation or flights but welcome any who would like to attend.

Then in November, again in a stunning location at Kopanong in Johannesburg, South Africa, UbuntuNet-Connect2010 will be hosted by TENET, the South African NREN.  This follows the successful conferences in Lilongwe then Kampala.  Here there is an exciting cluster of capacity building activities for NREN CEOs, CTOs and Board Chairs preceding the conference.  The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Rolling out the Regional Infrastructure: From dreams to achievement.’  The theme roots from the observation that the coming of the fibre has changed the landscape and now it is the time to work to deliver on the dreams and reap the harvest in our education and research environment!

Registration is open through the TENET DITCHE portal and a link is available on http://www.ubuntunet.net/uc2010 .  Full details of the event are available on the same page. Officially the date for submission of abstracts is past, but if you have a presentation you think would be really beneficial, please submit it and we will see if there is any opportunity.  The Alliance is grateful for IDRC for assisting with funding for this important set of events

NREN Twinning – the first success story: KENET and DFN

The ParticipantsTwinning brings NRENs together to share expertise and assists in capacity building and sharing of technology expertise.  The concept was developed in relation to the FEAST project and came to reality in October 2009 at UbuntuNet Connect09  in Kampala when the Kenya Education Network (KENET) and the German Research and Education Network (DFN) signed a two-year Memorandum of Understanding on technical cooperation and exchange (MoU) for the exchange of technical expertise between the two organizations. (seehttp://www.ubuntunet.net/november2009#mou)  Direct exchange of researchers between member institutions of the two networks will be supported by KENET and DFN.

The first working visit was by Josphat Karanja, the Head of Infrastructure at KENET from 8th to 22nd February 2010. While in Germany, Josphat spent time at the DFN offices in Berlin and also the Network Operations Center in Stuttgart. He also spent time with the ICT team of the Technical University of Berlin.

Thomas Schmid from DFN spent two weeks with KENET, from 14th March 2010 to 27th March 2010.

Kevin Chege, the KENET Network Manager spent time with DFN from 9th to 23rd May 2010. While with DFN, he also spent time at the DFN offices at Stuttgart and Berlin as well as the IT Security Center at Hamburg University, and with the ICT team of the Technical University of Berlin.

Background on KENET and DFN

A number of areas were identified from which DFN and KENET would share and learn from each other.

In terms of governance and business operation, DFN has been in operation since the early 1980s and has therefore seen the governance structure evolve to the current structure. It was important to note the similarities in governance structure between KENET and DFN with both being membership based organisations where the members play a key role in the way the organisation is run and the services available to members.

The two organisations also do not have direct government participation in their governance although they work closely with the respective governments to further the research agenda in their countries. DFN is a much larger organisation with more than 60 staff while KENET is growing and currently has 12 staff members.

DFN maintains a staff of 15 people at the Stuttgart office where the Network Operations Center (NOC) is situated. The staff at Stuttgart is responsible for network operations (7) and operation of services (7) like video conferencing.

The KENET NOC is still under development and will be based at two sites namely the Nairobi University Office and the Office at USIU. It is hoped the NOC will be in operation by the end of 2010.

DFN currently has 330 members and serves about 500 institutional customers. The DFN network has around 3 million users including students and researchers. The network comprises mainly capacity acquired as dark fiber and lighted by DFN, and managed wavelengths.

The KENET network currently connects over 50 institutions through leased lines (fiber and wireless) and distributes over 600 Mb/s to the institutions.

Services to members

The main service offered by DFN and KENET to their members is Internet access. DFN also offers optical and logical point-to-point and Layer 3 VPN services to their customers over the optical network. Currently KENET offers logical VPNs to members with many campuses.

The DFN offers other services to its members including:

  • Video conferencing services both for its internal use and for use by its members. The system currently supports more than 200 end-points with 15 conferences run simultaneously on a daily basis and the system is able to accumulate more than 4000 conference hours per month. KENET is in the process of rolling out VC services to its members as part of the NOC services.
  • CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) and PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) services are provided by DFN and a security team that is based in Hamburg and operates the services.
  • EduRoam/DFNRoaming – eduRoam is a pan-European LAN Access system allowing users to connect the local LAN of any participating site using the credentials of their home organisation when traveling. DFNRoaming is the national part of that service. KENET will be rolling out this service to its members as part of the Phase two of the virtual network.
  • EU/GÉANT Activities – Staff members from DFN also participate in the EU projects, especially under the Joint Research Activity (JRAs) and Service Activities (SAs). KENET staff are also participating in regional activities including being active members of UbuntuNet Alliance.

KENET also offers several services to its customers including

  • Co-location and hosting services
  • ICT Consultancy services
  • Technical Training Services

Key Lessons and the way forward

The visits highlighted a number of areas or initiatives that will be beneficial to both organizations as we move forward.

  • KENET already has a network that distributes bandwidth to more than 50 sites. DFN will provide technical expertise and support to KENET engineers in managing and improving the network for the benefit of the KENET members.
  • KENET is in the process of developing a NOC and Data Center to serve KENET members. Input from DFN engineers will be critical in ensuring that the equipment and systems implemented will be sufficient in supporting the engineers in their work.
  • KENET is preparing a tender document for the procurement and development of the next phase of the network. This will be Gigabit network based on dark fiber and managed wavelengths. Input from DFN engineers will be critical as they have previously gone through this process.
  • The DFN engineers will get a chance through the exchange to participate in the development of a young and growing NREN and understand the unique challenges faced by NRENs in developing countries.

Conclusion

This programme has the potential to greatly influence and help improve the operational and technical competencies for KENET engineers while at the same time offering DFN engineers a chance to participate in the development of a nascent Research and Education Network.

Ultimately, it may also help promote intra-African NREN exchanges so that we may learn from each other’s experiences and share expertise. It is our hope that the success of this exchange programme will herald a new phase of engagement especially in relation to the implementation of the Africa Connect Project.

With mature leadership and a sound track record, KENET is always ready to move to seize an opportunity that will build capacity and improve services.  The embracing of the twinning concept is a good example of this.  Other UbuntuNet member NRENs are sure to follow and also to benefit from the KENET experience.
*compiled by Josphat Karanja, Head of Infrastructure at KENET with some Secretariat input

Updates from SomaliREN – developments and progress

SomaliREN GurusSince SomaliREN was established and joined UbuntuNet Alliance, it has made progress despite the challenges of the environment  it was established in. Now, the organization is ready to extend its membership base beyond its nine founding members and plans to establish its first network operations center sometime this year.

Last July the Heads of the member institutions came together in Nairobi for the launch of the EC-funded SHERNET (Somali Higher  Education Regional Networking) project which is aimed at developing the capacity of the higher education institutions in Somalia. The key components of the project, which is being implemented in partnership with CfbT Education Trust, Kenyatta University and Nairobi University, include graduate level scholarships for 18 candidates from the member institutions’ staff members, the provision of IT equipment, the establishment of a higher education commission to safeguard and improve the quality of higher education, and many other items that are in line with the goals of this initiative.

The annual SomaliREN meeting also took place in Nairobi around the same time. Representatives of the member institutions, the SomaliREN board and secretariat discussed the challenges and progress so far, and the way forward for the NREN. The member institutions have nominated committees in their respective institutions that will liaise with SomaliREN in a number of smaller projects which mostly involve capacity assessment with regards to information and communication technology (ICT) and institutional effectiveness.

The organization has also partnered with KTH in a project aimed at providing interconnectivity among the member institutions; now the planning phase is about to be completed.
*Submitted by Dr. Abdillahi Behi Hussein, CTO, SomaliREN

Goodbye Vimbai Hungwe: a dedicated professional gone

The late Vimbai doing what he knew bestGoodbye Vimbai Hungwe: Saying farewell to a good friend of content networks in the region.

We have just learned with great sadness of the death of Vimbai Matekaire Hungwe, Senior Programme Officer with ITOCA who passed away in a tragic car accident in Johannesburg on the 6th of June 2010. Many NREN, Research and Library colleagues  will have worked with Vimbai and the good people of ITOCA in capacity building to access quality content in Health through HINARI, Agriculture through AGORA and Environmental Information through OARE, ITOCA (www.itoca.org) Information Training & Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA) was established in March 1999 and  spearheads programme support for several ICT for development programmes.

An accomplished Information professional, Vimbai was President of AHILA (www.ahila.org)for 2008-2011.  He studied at Harare Polytechnic, the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Zimbabwe and was a PhD candidate at the University of Pretoria at the time of his passing, researching Evidence-based Medicine. Says Gracian Chimwaza, Executive Director of ITOCA  “Vimbai was a beloved brother, work colleague, and professional. He will be missed greatly at ITOCA and across the information fraternity in Africa for many years to come.”

The photo shows the Vimbai many of us are familiar with, in action, capacity building – on this occasion at Chancellor College, University of Malawi.  We pass our condolences to his family, colleagues and all who mourn his passing.

Education and the future: eLearning

ELearning is defined by the European Commission (EC) as ‘the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services, as well as remote exchanges and collaboration.’ ELearning is seen by the EC as an integral part of education. In view of this, the EC is tirelessly calling its member states to include eLearning in their national policies through the EC’s Lifelong Learning Programme which is currently running. It started in 2007 and it shall run till 2013.

ELearning may involve the use of Grid Computing. Grid technologies help researchers worldwide collaborate, analyze data and carry out research. However, grids can also be used as a means to provide education and training, by providing a platform on which virtual research communities and organizations can share resources, information and ideas.

This use of the grid will allow eLearning to overcome many problems. For example, eLearning is often based on technologies that are difficult to scale-up or share with multiple users. Current methods of eLearning also tend not to distribute computing power or storage, thereby making data-intensive fields for example in medicine hard to teach. The grid could help access the processing power and storage space of many learning devices, letting eLearning address tasks such as medical image processing, which requires significant amounts of computing power. Sharing resources would also aid mobile learning, where learners use portable devices with limited memory and processing power.

Despite being a very important technology, eLearning is facing many challenges.  Learners need to have the basic underlying skills required to use eLearning tools. This is a particular problem for grid-based eLearning strategies, as the grid is often cited as a hard-to-use technology. However, once users gain skills and experience with eLearning, they are a step closer to overcoming the ‘digital divide’. The second challenge is that the quality of the learning materials must be high: for example, easy to access, cost-effective, fulfilling its purpose, and accurate. But, defining quality further can be difficult, as it depends greatly upon individual perspective.

The third challenge that eLearning is facing is that technology needs to be available to all – a problem for developing countries. The ERINA and ERINA4Africa studies address this issue .  In additon schemes in schools across the EU aim to provide students with the necessary technologies.
*Information collected from http://www.isgtw.org/?pid=1002671

African School of Physics Conducts the First Biennial African School

From 1st August to the 21st of August 2010, the African School of Physics was conducting its first ever biennial African school on fundamental subatomic physics and its applications. The venue was the NITheP at Stellenbosch in South Africa. The project was proposed and conducted by collaboration of ten organizations and the Univ. S. de Compostela (Spain)

Participants learnt, among other things, Theoretical Subatomic Physics from 2nd August to 6th August, Experimental Subatomic Physics from August 9 to August 13 and Accelerators and Technology from August 16 to August 21. The lecture also included Information Technology and GRID.

The school was aimed at building capacity to harvest, interpret and exploit the results of current and future physics experiments with particle accelerators, and to increase proficiency in related applications and technologies. The school was based on a close interplay between theoretical, experimental and applied physics.

As an introduction, the African School of Physics is an academic Institution that organizes a Thematic School of Physics in a Sub-Saharan African country every second year. They also provide financial support for the travel and stay expenses of the selected students, with priority to Sub-Saharan African students. The Lectures which they conduct are addressed to students in Fundamental Physics with at least a background of 4 years of university formation.
*Information collected from http://africanschoolofphysics.web.cern.ch/AfricanSchoolofPhysics/

 

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