The Reality of a Nigerian Research and Education Network(NgREN)

As research plays keep role in technology development around the world, with the higher education community pioneering such feat, Nigeria institutions of higher learning are ready to join …

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Joshua Atah of NUC

As research plays keep role in technology development around the world, with the higher education community pioneering such feat, Nigeria institutions of higher learning are ready to join the league of great research institutions in the world through a research newtwork. Recently the National Universities Commission through Dr Joshua Atah, the project coordinator, gave a detailed progress report to stakeholders on the establishment of  the Nigerian research and education network( NgREN), which coincidentally is the focus of EduNet2012.

Here is the update as presented:

It is with heartfelt pleasure and a deep sense of responsibility that I write to provide this update on ongoing work to bring into being our collective dream of the establishment of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN), for and on behalf of the National Universities Commission (NUC)/ Committee of Vice-Chancellors-led Project Implementation Committee. Since my last update in September 2011, a lot more ground has undoubtedly been covered in the slow but steady journey toward the realisation of this dream.

May I share, ab-initio, in the general happiness expressed by a cross-section of IT stakeholders in the country on the continuing efforts of several groups to organise themselves into collaborative clusters. It is particularly noteworthy that the clusters are evolving around the nodes that are on the core national network being built as the backbone of the NgREN. Such readiness/sensitisation meetings that have been taking place, will invariably make it a lot easier for NgREN’s rapid expansion beyond the core network.

 

As I submit the following as highlights of milestones seen thus far on the journey toward destination NgREN, let me state quickly that until physical connections are created between network nodes and packets are sent and received by them, NgREN, and indeed any REN, remains a work in progress.

 

Project description

As a recap, the NgREN project seeks to create broadband interconnectivity between all 36 Federal Universities (in the first instance), provide adequate internet bandwidth while ensuring connections to other RENs, develop critical human capacity, provide modern learning and collaboration content and tools and boost available power supply to data centres. It is envisaged that the network will grow easily to encompass other research and education institutions across the country.

 

Implementation procedures

Implementation procedures for the core network are based on the Science and Technology Education at the Post-Basic level (STEP-B)/World Bank guidelines as approved in the pertinent plan documents; Work Plan, Procurement Plan, Monitoring and Evaluation plan, Disbursement Plan, etc. There is a Project Implementation Team with the Secretariat provided by the NUC STEP-B office that reports to the STEP-B National Project Secretariat (NPS) and the World Bank. Latest strategic implementation and funding realities have necessitated additional reporting to the Honourable Minister of Communication Technology who has assumed oversight responsibility to ensure project implementation proceeds smoothly in subsequent phases that will connect additional member nodes.

Project implementation activities to be supported by funds from the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), will be executed according to extant FGN procurement guidelines.

Progress made thus far (since the last update in September 2011)

(i) The completion of the process of fund reallocation within the STEP-B project to ensure the availability of catalytic funds promised by the World Bank. This was achieved in December 2011.

(ii) The formal approval by the World Bank, of the project implementation plan documents, was received on the 18th of January, 2012.

(iii) The formal registration of NgREN as a corporate entity limited by guarantee by the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission, was achieved on the 20th of February 2012, following the signing of an MoU between the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) and the NUC. The initial membership comprises the 36 Federal Universities in Nigeria and the NUC but membership is, and will remain, open to all education and research institutions in Nigeria.

(iv)Between February and May, 2012, implementation planning meetings were held at the STEP-B NPS, the NUC, the Federal Ministries of Education and  Communication Technology and the World Bank Country Office (including a video conference with US-based World Bank REN Consultants and the Managers of the Irish REN, HEAnet). The meetings were to harmonise positions and to re-align project thrust with existing international best practice following extensive stakeholder consultations in-country in the past two years.

(v)The allocated sum of $10 million by the World Bank through the STEP-B Project, is to support: recruitment of consultants, procurement of multimedia equipment, procurement and deployment of ring network, access network, bandwidth, international links, customisation of space and acquisition of office equipment for the establishment of Network Management Center (NMC), and the training of core technical staff (in the first instance) as approved in the work and procurement plans, for NgREN Phase One.

(vi) Currently, Project and World Bank consultants are putting finishing touches to documents that will guide the procurement of goods and services for the establishment of the NgREN backbone.

(vii) As alluded to earlier, further discussions are ongoing with the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology on the expansion and sustainability of the Network. It is expected that a second phase to start almost in tandem with the first, will expand network nodes to include the 9 new Federal Universities, 12 Medical Colleges/ Teaching Hospitals (Federal) and 28 alternate campuses of the Federal Universities. This second phase will be supported through the NCC’s Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF.

(viii)The Honourable Minister of Communication Technology chaired a meeting in her office on Monday, 18th June 2012, with representatives of the NUC and the World Bank, to firm up the phased implementation timelines and responsibilities.

(ix)Stakeholder sensitisation and engagement has continued to yield positive outcomes such that there is now a lot of commitment to the initial connectivity and sharing of resources. This is in addition to funding support to provide content, bandwidth, capacity building, and multimedia, among others, from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, and the initial member institutions which are currently contributing the sum of USD2.25m of their own money under the platform of the CVC.

(x)The NUC has donated a wing of one of her buildings in the Central Business District of Abuja to serve as the Secretariat and Network Centre for the NgREN.

(xi) The Project Communication Plan has been completed and will be implemented to ensure regular provision of updates henceforth as the NgREN backbone is pieced together in the coming months.

Finally, the often painfully slow process of establishing NgREN that commenced with the drafting of a funding proposal by a small technical committee, is in its last stages. We are now surely on the verge of joining the global community of RENs physically and will continue to count on the understanding and support of all stakeholders to net this all-important goal.

 

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