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Connecting Africa: New Networks for Open Science

Impact case study for REF 2021: Computer Science and Informatics (UoA 11)

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

Professor Simon Taylor - Simon J E Taylor is a Professor of Computer Science specialising in Modelling & Simulation and Digital Infrastructures.  He has made many contributions to manufacturing, health care and international development.  He has worked with international consortia (in particular UNICT, WACREN and the UBUNTUNET ALLIANCE) to contribute to the development of National Research and Education Networks in Africa that has impacted over 3 million students and 300 universities. He has also worked with international consortia (in particular Saker Solutions, the University of Westminster, SZTAKI and CloudSME UG) to develop high performance simulation systems that are being used by over 30 European SMEs and large-scale enterprises such as the Ford Motor Company and Sellafield PLC.  He also contributes to the development of Open Science principles and practice for Africa and for Modelling & Simulation as a field. He has led modules in distributed computing in the Department of Computer Science for many years with high module evaluations scores and is an enthusiastic teacher.  He has also led the development of several postgraduate degrees.  He has supervised over 20 doctoral students, has examined more than 25 doctoral students from across the world and has managed over 15 research fellows. Professor Taylor co-founded and is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Simulation and the UK Operational Research Society Simulation Workshop Series.  He chaired ACM SIGSIM between 2005-2008 and since then has been an active member of the ACM SIGSIM Steering Committee. He has chaired international standardisation groups under the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization and has conducted several organisational review panels (e.g., DSTL) and simulation audits. He is currently the executive chair for the annual Simulation Exploration Experience (https://www.exploresim.com/) and a member of the Computer Simulation Archive steering committee (https://d.lib.ncsu.edu/computer-simulation/).  He has also chaired several conferences and is the General Chair for the IEEE/ACM 2025 Winter Simulation Conference. Interested in the history of computer simulation?  Visit the Computer Simulation Archive hosted by NCSU and hear talks from some of the pioneers in computer simulation.

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Project last modified 11/05/2022