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Posted by on Mar 22, 2010

Scholarship in developing nations: INASP

Further to my previous post about the difficulties encountered by many researchers in developing nations, I feel it is necessary that the situation is not all that bleak. In fact, I do sense some momentum in improving this situation.

The way I see it from my limited perspective is that the challenges facing developing nations in regards to scholarship are as follows. Nothing particularly original here on my part, but here it goes:

  • Access to scholarly materials-knowing what is available, what has been done before, and what other colleagues or contemporaries are doing. Further, it is imperative that cost structures for these materials are priced respective to resources available to purchase them. Ideally, they would be given away for free in developing nations, as they are with several providers of academic content (including my own). Barring that, prices have to be set according to library expenditures or some other progressive measurement.
  • Efficient delivery systems– in this instance I am referring to stable and efficient internet systems. Despite some inroads in some areas (Rwanda, among others, seems to be making some headway here), bandwidth is a persistent issue and remains the greatest impediment to access. Without bandwidth, the whole concept of an online economy (paying for anything let alone academic content) is an elusive dream.
  • Hardware– besides the internet issue, there are some issues with hardware. Many universities do not have sufficient workstations to account for all students (let alone bandwidth). I know of many students in Africa (in particular) who rely on internet cafes for their access as their universities do not have enough computer workstations.
  • Time=discovery-Research, even in the best of circumstances, takes time. With limited bandwidth, one has to prioritize searching and strategize their choices before even going online. This is all well and good, but it assumes a thorough conceptual knowledge of both what information is available and the structure of the information systems themselves (and subsequently how best to retrieve it). This is truly an unfair burden for scholars in developing nations as this ability to conceptualize information and the systems that contain it is not even present in the developed world. I would be hard pressed to find a researcher anywhere in the world who would be able to identify what is available before searching for it.
  • Mobile=time=discovery-the hardware that is often available is mobile and content providers can stimulate discovery of materials by offering mobile channels to account for this. It provides more time to interact with the content and the structure in which the content is contained.

There are some organizations out there trying to make an impact on some of these fronts. One of those is INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications), an organization devoted to addressing issues of research access and use.

INASP’s work focuses on communication, knowledge and networks, with particular emphasis on the needs of developing and emerging countries. We respond to their national priorities for:

  • access to national and international scholarly information and knowledge capacities to use, create, manage and communicate scholarly information and knowledge via appropriate ICTs
  • national, regional and international co-operation, networking and knowledge exchange

They also maintain a list of some good resources for scholars out there, including (text taken from INASP):

So there you have it. There are materials available so be sure to take advantage of them.

An image showing badnwidth connections in Africa as put forth by SEACOM. Taken from http://dchetty.co.za/2009/06/seacom-what-now/

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