National Research and Education Networks – known as NRENs – are organisations that set up and run broadband networks that help universities and research institutions communicate and work with each other.
Whether they know it or not, those who work at a UK university will likely be using NREN services all the time, with Eduroam, a system that allows easy WiFi access across different campuses, perhaps the most recognisable.
In Europe, the past few decades have seen the creation of NRENs in each country, helping with everything from making logging in a more straightforward task, to sharing the vast amounts of data gathered by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
“Twenty years ago, if I visited another University I couldn’t just connect my laptop and access the Internet,” said Prof Simon Taylor, Professor of Computer Science and Vice Dean of Research at Brunel University London. “Nowadays, thanks to NREN services I can now connect to the Internet at Universities and Research Institutions across the world.”
“But there is a whole ton of computer architecture needed underneath it all that says, 'actually, yes, this person is allowed to use this system but not that other system.' And once you’ve standardised these systems, you can then roll them out more widely – so nowadays I can visit a university in the Netherlands or Germany and log into their systems using my Brunel credentials.”
With NRENs established and working well in Europe, Prof Taylor and his colleague Dr Anastasia Anagnostou set their sights on Africa, where such networks were rare and underdeveloped, but had the potential to revolutionise how research is completed and shared.
The Brunel team set about working with groups in a number of African countries to share the research and knowledge that underpinned the established European systems, with the goal of helping local institutions and governments develop their own.
As part of the work, Prof Taylor and Dr Anagnostou helped local NRENs in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda to begin setting up their own Open Access Repositories, giving those nations’ researchers a platform through which they could better share their research.
“One of these platforms was deployed in Ethiopia as an open repository for academic papers and PhD theses,” said Prof Taylor.
“Off the back of that, the Ethiopian government announced that all publicly funded research must now be added to the repository. It’s now helping African researchers get their work seen across the world.”
Whilst Africa’s NRENs still have a little way to go to get their networks as connected as their neighbours in Europe, Prof Taylor says they’re now well on their way, pointing to the fact that when he last visited a university in Ghana, he could easily log onto the system using Eduroam.
“There has been quite a nice trickle-down effect, and fairly rapidly we’ve started getting network services connected to universities in those countries,” said Prof Taylor.
“Now with the growth of African NRENs, new Open Science facilities are being created to help colleagues across Africa to make their excellent research more open and accessible. There’s tremendous benefit from doing this and it’s really exciting being part of the African Open Science movement.”
Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project
Partnering with confidence
Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.
Project last modified 11/05/2022