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Portable GRUs (Global Research Universities) in Africa

KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)


Professor Simon Marginson, who teaches higher education at the University of Melbourne, recently presented the concept of the global research university (GRU) in a keynote address at the British Council’s Going Global international education conference in London. As quoted from the Times Higher Education blog, Marginson defined a GRU as a “multiversity”, active in all disciplines and fields “plus global systems and ranking … located in national systems of higher education, but also part of a global system at the same time”. Marginson also said: “In many nations, especially in Africa, there are no GRUs. None is in sight.” Although the blog did not address further why this might be so, it begs the question why are there no African GRUs in sight?

Perhaps a solution. According to textually.org, Africa’s digital technology is exploding across the continent as smart phone technology is increasing as much as 500 percent. Given remote access to web-based educational systems – like WebCT, and the unnecessary local physical infrastructure required, isn’t the concept of a portable GRU in the palm of your hand a no-brainer? Doesn’t it make sense as a goal of higher education to truly connect globally within and from impoverished countries already dealing with inequalities to promote greater global education?

Although the use of digital technology is growing in developing countries, Reuters reported that only 28% of all Africans had a cellular subscription at this time last year. Nonetheless, Africa continues to have one of the largest growth rates in voice, mobile Web and mobile commerce channels. One of the problems has been the cost of technology in such impoverished countries. The solution is providing handsets for less than $40 each, already being done for up to 6 million in Africa. African mobile usage has now surpassed fixed usage.

No doubt, Africa and other developing countries will continue to see a rise in the use of digital technology. As more individuals around the world have this type of global access and affordable cellular devices, the greater the possibility of seeing the further expansion of GRUs with portable GRUs – and a more educated global population. A more educated global population makes for greater economic development worldwide, and contributes to greater well-being of all citizens – local and global.

But we must remember to ask – by whose educational standards, whose educational values, whose educational beliefs? Western standards? Eastern standards? Northern standards? Southern standards? Or cooperative Global standards? GRUs, as part of a global system, need to accommodate open debate and higher thinking just as much as any on-campus classes in a physical university need to. Just as Web 2.0 technology has advanced the ability to socially interact and mobilize knowledge as never before, the greater this new web is cast across the globe to include rich and poor nations alike the greater the possibilities for global understanding and cooperation.

Professor Marginson calls for GRUs to be part of a “global system” but says “none is in sight”. Using digital technology to create portable GRUs around the world is the way to do it to put higher education – literally – in the hands of everyone. With the burgeoning of digital technology in Africa and other developing countries, perhaps portable GRUs there and around the world are closer than we think.

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