Saturday, September 7, 2013

Research for Life Programmes at Njala University, Sierra Leone

The Universities Act of 2005 established the University of Njala (NU) as a Public Institution with a mandate to provide training in agriculture, education, environmental sciences, social sciences, community health sciences and technology. NU has campuses at Njala (main campus), Bo, Bonthe and Freetown.

Prof. Abu Sesay, Vice Chancellor and Principal,
Njala University
One challenge faced by lecturers and students at Njala University, like in most academic institutions in Africa, is lack of access to the latest scientific information published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications. Prior to the 11-year civil war (1991 – 2002), the University Library was relatively well stocked with books and journals. Today, its collection is old. The shelves reserved for journals hold old issues except for the latest copies (2013 samples issues from the publisher) of the Journal of Ecology and Journal of Animal Ecology and a couple others. Current publications on the shelves are mainly those produced by international development organizations such as the World Bank, FAO, CTA, etc, that are sent to the University for free; news magazines and local newspapers purchased by the Library mainly from Freetown, the Capital City of Sierra Leone.

The current Vice Chancellor and Principal of NU, Prof. Abu Sesay, is determined to turn the institution into “an outstanding centre of learning, scholarship and community service with a national and international profile”. Access to the latest global knowledge available in scientific publications, to enhance the teaching and research activities in at NU, would certainly contribute to achieving this vision.

Access to academic and professional peer-reviewed journals, especially in agriculture and related sciences, health and medical sciences, and environmental sciences by lecturers and students at Njala University should no longer be an issue. NU has very good Internet connection and subscribes Research for Life ProgrammesHINARI, AGORA, OARE and ARDI.  These programmes provide online access to over 30,000 peer-reviewed international scientific journals, books, and databases. This includes access to full-text articles which can be downloaded for saving and/or printing.

Participants at the Research for Life training at Njala University
From 3 to 5 September 2013, I and Professor Bamidele Fawole (of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and ITOCA), travelled to NU to facilitate a national training workshop on Research for Life programmes. The trip was
worth it. Thirty enthusiastic lecturers, researchers, information technology specialists and librarians from academic and research institutions in Sierra Leone took part in the four-day workshop. They learnt how to access, search and retrieve full-text articles (in PDF or HTML formats) provided through the Research for Life Programmes. They were also introduced to information search strategies including using Boolean search operators. At NU, the challenge is no longer access to global scientific knowledge but how to effectively and efficiently use the more than 30,000 online resources available through Research for Life Programmes. The Vice Chancellor is determined to transform the university into a 21st Century institution. The lecturers should also play their part in the transformation process of the institution by conducting good research and recommending to their students to use the latest scientific literature available to them through the Research for Life Programmes.