African Universities 'Face Fresh Internet Challenges'

Digital Content

Africa's access to digital research resources has improved but the continent faces new challenges in its use of these resources, a report finds.

"With infrastructure and facilities steadily improving ... addressing the use of, rather than access to, electronic resources should perhaps receive greater attention," writes report author Jonathan Harle, programme officer for the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).

His report, 'Digital resources for research: a review of access and use in African universities', was published by ACU in June. It reviews studies in the area, as well as listing resources available to African universities.

While there is still "a considerable way to go" before all African universities have access to broadband and the large bandwidth that the majority of digital resources require, Harle notes that "progress is encouraging". Generally, free or affordable access is available but the material is not always used, Harle told SciDev.Net.

Poor awareness of available resources is part of the problem, says Harle. Other problems faced by institutions include difficulty gaining access to relevant sites and an inability to locate relevant, high-quality material. "The range of electronic resources now available is dizzyingly wide ... Users must be given the skills to identify and locate what they need for their work," writes Harle.

Library staff has a key role to play in this. "As information gets more complex, we increasingly need skilled people to manage it," he says. To this end, time must be invested in training staff, particularly in information and communication technology and web skills, says Harle.

He adds that developing online platforms for the publication and dissemination of local research is also important, such as the Database of African Theses and Dissertations Initiative launched in 2003 by the Association of African Universities - a project that aims to collect, manage and disseminate theses and dissertations electronically.

He says the ability of African scholars to publish and contribute information is critical to redressing the prevailing imbalance, where Africa is a consumer but not a contributor of information and knowledge.