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Data networks and sustainability education in African universities: A case study for Sub-Saharan Africa

Gregory D Bothun (Department of Physics, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 7 March 2016




The purpose of this paper is to provide a case study report of the development of data networks and initial connectivity in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region and how that development evolved into the formation of research and education (R & E) networks that enable new collaborations and curriculum potential.


This case study is presented through the past 20 year’s operations and field activities of the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) at the University of Oregon, who in partnership with the National Science Foundation has worked together to significantly train network engineers in Africa on how to develop regional R & E networks that can link together the various research universities in SSA.


The author shows how the development of these networks have fostered improved collaboration between African and US scientists, particularly around issues that relate to climate change. This paper contains testimonials from both scientists and on-the-ground key directors in Africa about the value of these improved networks. The expansion of regional R & E networks has allowed the Association of African Universities (AAU) to launch sustainable development as one of its new core programs over the period 2013-2017. Within this new core AAU program are four sub-themes: agriculture and food security, water resources management, climate change and energy. All of these themes will benefit directly from these new, network-enabled, data-sharing abilities.

Practical implications

The current state of network-driven curriculum and curriculum exchange between African universities is assessed and compared that to that in the early days of academic network penetration (1990-2000) in the USA to find similar rates of evolution. Since 2015, SSA has sufficient network access and connectivity to now enable a wide variety of new collaborative research and collaborative academic programs.


The experience and operational competence of the NSRC at the University of Oregon needs to be detailed and espoused. No other American university has had such an impact on Africa in terms of improving its overall network infrastructure enabling new kinds of collaborative research on real-world problems, such as climate change and resource depletion in Africa.



Most of the material presented here was the result of a gracious interaction with the personnel of the NSRC, specifically Director S. Huter; D. Smith and H. Allen also provided important accounts of recent NSRC activity. The author also wishes to thank S. Song for updating this material and for his excellent efforts to document continually improving telecommunications infrastructure on the continent.


Bothun, G.D. (2016), "Data networks and sustainability education in African universities: A case study for Sub-Saharan Africa", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 246-268.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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