In this article we introduce a new concept – university ICT4D – that refers to the university as a producer of ICT4D knowledge and engaged actor in ICT4D practice – understood as the teaching, research and outreach activities of universities that link ICTs to the development needs of their communities and advance the transition to the knowledge society. Experience has shown that successfully leveraging Internet technologies for economic, social and political change demands new models and new technologies, and depends upon multi-disciplinary and multisectoral approaches. In most developing world contexts, complex problems are paired with limited institutional capacity and scarce funds, making essential the efficient and creative use of available resources. One powerful and oftenoverlooked piece of this puzzle is academia, which has substantial relevant capabilities to offer as investigator, consultant, educator, convener, evaluator and more. Indeed to perform these functions is to achieve the very mission of the university. When speaking of ICTs, we know universities as producers of ICT skills and knowledge in areas ranging from computer literacy to high-end programming. We posit, however, that while there are real barriers to university engagement in ICT4D and the broader revolution in cademia it requires or fosters, there is already more happening than many of us realise. As the following examples briefly illustrate, there are a number of less well-known but critically important ways that developing world universities are already making strides towards teaching, conducting research and integrating outreach programs in this field of ICT4D. The La Salle Institute of Governance (LSIG) at De La Salle University in the Philippines is a research and training institution that aims to produce new knowledge, strategies and tools that promote transparent, accountable, participatory, and effective governance. Recognising the growing interest in ICT, in 2002 political science professor Francisco Magno and his colleagues began to study ICT’s contribution to good governance. From this modest start, today they boast an active egovernance program that has a wide range of activities cutting across teaching, research, and community engagement. LSIG conducts workshops for local and national policy makers; produces a quarterly magazine for the League of Municipalities; hosts conferencessuch as Civil Society and Rights- Based Governance; produces research studies on such topics as “Good Governance and Anti- Corruption: A Term-End Performance Assessment”; introduces new courses into the university general curriculum and specialised courses for graduate students; and maintains partnerships with governmental and nongovernmental organisations. From a donor perspective, there are numerous organisations available to implement ICT4D programs across any fields – rural development, health services, e-government, women empowerment, policy reform, NGO capacity building – but surprisingly little academic quality research that analyses the results and implications for future efforts and policies. There are many case studies that are closer to collections of anecdotes written to showcase success, rather than the more painfully learned (and earned) lessons. What has been missing is high-quality, comparable, analytically rigorous, and dispassionate research and evaluation that will allow everyone to learn from past experiences and improve future program designs and implementations. As a Philippine colleague told us, “if you ever find someone doing research on programimpact here, it’s someone rom another country.” This situation exacerbates deeper-seated problems, impeding our understanding of the interactions between ICT and poverty alleviation, business generation, improved governance, gender equality and the other issues we care about – it’s essential for developing world researchers to help develop the supporting ideas and methods. In the area of teaching, we encountered widespread agreement that every country needs professionals in government, industry and civil society who understand the dynamics and challenges of ICTenabled socio-economic development. Unfortunately, relatively few developing world universities are adequately preparing students with the knowledge and skills for crafting better telecommunication policies, developing sustainable telecenters that meet the needs of underserved communities, or promoting effective use of ICT by small and medium enterprises. This is made even more ifficult due to barriers to elective coursework, cross-listed courses, and ther national and institutional policies that limit capacity and incentives for new pedagogical and programmatic approaches. Finally, in the outreach arena, few developing universities engage their students and faculty meaningfully with their communities. Developing educational and beneficial internships, community service, course projects and other programs that offer university expertise to local communities is a complicated affair. Yet these forms of engagement promise both substantial real-world learning opportunities for the university and real results for the communities in which they reside. Until universities effectively engage their communities, both groups will forego valuable fruits that would help advance the university mission and promote social well-being challenges? Many bservers ncluding people within academia) have deep reservations, ranging from doubts as to whether universities should take on these issues in the first place, to dismissing universities as being incapable of fulfilling these expectations. Critics claim, rightly in many cases, that universities are ossified institutions, largely incapable of the internal reform and innovation needed to make them more relevant to the changing needs of society. Or, they point to external constraints such as higher education policies that, for example, have a five-year process for introducing a new course, hardly the appropriate environment for curricular innovation. Or, they comment on systemic challenges such as disciplinary rigidities that make it difficult to conduct interdisciplinary work. There is general agreement among ICT4D scholars that one needs to bring a diversity of disciplinary tools to this field, yet universities and the journals where scholars need to publish in order to receive promotions reinforce the very disciplinary boundaries we need to overcome. Indeed, getting technologists to work effectively with social scientists and the professional disciplines is a central question of ICT4D research.
In most developing world contexts, complex problems are paired with limited institutional capacity and scarce funds, making essential the efficient and creative use of available resources. One
powerful and oftenoverlooked piece of this puzzle is academia, which has substantial relevant capabilities to offer as investigator,consultant, educator, convener, evaluator and more. Indeed to
perform these functions is to achieve the very mission of the university
This dual observation – the emergence of university ICT4D programs and the increasing awareness of the need for scholarly attention to critical issues of societal ICT integration, juxtaposed with the overall scarcity of such programs and firmly held critiques of universities – has led a research team from a coalition of developing and developed world universities to embark on a year-long study to uncover the current practice and potential for university ICT4D. This study, sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the APEC Education Foundation, builds on earlier conferences on this topic held at Makerere University in Uganda, Cornell University in the US, and De La Salle University in the Philippines. The research will help us answer the following question, artfully summarised by our colleague William Melody. “How is it possible to build on the many individual programs in various corners of universities, to get university-wide commitment to embedding ICT4D issues in the ethos of the university and through all of its relevant programs? Most ICT4D programs exist because of the driving commitment of a few people without any significant support or commitment from the university, and very often with lots of opposition. The case studies are heroic, but they aren’t going to have a major impact until the universities change. This is a problem in most developed world as well as developing world universities.”
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