Breaking barriers in academia and research
Louise Bezuidenhout, Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Institute for Science, Innovation and Society and Ola Karrar a Lecturer in Statistics at the University of Khartoum in Sudan first met in the medieval city of Trieste in Italy in the summer of 2017.
At a summer school on Research Data Management, taking place in Trieste, Louise was presenting a lecture on Open Science. Open Science is a worldwide movement to remove barriers to data, publications, software and educational resources.
After Louise’s presentation, Ola asked Louise ‘how can Sudanese academics participate in the Open Science Movement when international sanctions have been placed in the country since 1993?’ This question formed the foundation of a research partnership between Ola and Louise.
While sanctions are often considered as a ‘soft alternative’ to armed conflict, they have impacts beyond their intended remit. Often-overlooked areas affected by sanctions include research and education. Sanctions place invisible barriers against research in countries by limiting access to necessary resources and curtailing their effective use.
Ola and Louise discussed the consequences of financial sanctions on academia in Sudan, and realised that there was a lack of data on the extent of the problem. Their shared commitment towards Open Science and research capacity building in Africa led them to apply for the AfOx Travel Grant in 2018.
The AfOx Travel Grant enabled Ola and Louise to visit each other in both Khartoum and Oxford.
In Khartoum, Ola and Louise held a series of open lectures on the project for students, academics, government and the general public. They designed an online survey that was shared with researchers across universities and research institutions in Sudan to find out the extent to which they felt their work was impacted by international sanctions.
Ola then travelled to Oxford where they analysed the data collected via the surveys. They also collaborated with Any Nobes, Prograame Coordinator at INASP to publish a paper on their findings.
Since 2018, Ola and Louise have published one paper and have received a further GCRF grant to extend their study to other countries under sanctions.
“What became evident from the survey was the pernicious influence of sanctions on academic systems. Isolating academics from research materials and funding provides challenges, but the additional burden of being isolated from the global research community – both offline and online – has long-reaching implications. Urgent need for creative solutions to support Sudanese academics in overcoming this legacy, and a sustained period of engagement is required to identify key skill, resource and capacity shortages. This will ensure that efforts to (re)build academic capacity within Sudan are targeted and effective. In particular, this will help Sudanese academics to engage with the exciting opportunities that the Open Science movement offers.”
Read Ola and Louise’s paper on Economic sanctions and academia: Overlooked impact and long-term consequences here.