Sierra Leone has borne the brunt of the devastating effects of a protracted civil war from 1991-2001, the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic crisis. This has impacted Sierra Leone’s higher education system, which has been negatively affected by several factors, including poor financing and ailing research infrastructure. Despite these challenges, higher education remains central to the government’s development priorities, emphasising the need to strengthen education as a critical pillar of national development.

This article was built on the recent partnership with the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to build research capacity within higher education in Sierra Leone and participation in the West and Central Africa Research and Education Network (WACREN) and UbuntuNet Alliance conferences. Noting the realities of the in-country challenges relating to infrastructure and connectivity, raising awareness of the online research materials already available through Research4Life, there was motivation to improve connectivity and on-campuses network; train researchers, library and ICT staff to improve research writing, publishing and access to online scholarly resources within higher education in Sierra Leone.

We began in 2014 by organising a series of symposia for leaders in research and academia to discuss the barriers and opportunities to support access to online research. This event provided the enabling environment for consultation with in-country experts and a chance to get high-level buy-in. We learned that, for impact, the improvement of access needs to be accompanied by skills training for researchers and journal editors in writing, research communication and publishing. In this case, in response to the poor access to the internet around the country, INASP adapted its online courses to develop courses that could be downloaded and used offline. This proved relevant during the Ebola outbreak and the COVID-19 pandemic, when institutions were closed and people needed to avoid travel or large gatherings. These workshops and training have helped to promote the availability of free open access resources (through Research4Life) within higher education institutions in Sierra Leone.

The building of Sierra Leone’s ICT infrastructure was hampered and delayed by the long civil war. Where there is internet connectivity, and when access becomes more widespread, institutions will need to keep up with the technology. They will need skilled engineers and ICT professionals to configure campus networks and ensure campus-wide access. Participation in a series of WACREN and UbuntuNet Alliance conferences provided the impetus for establishing the National Research and Education Network (SLREN) and for Sierra Leone to join WACREN. Modalities are currently being implemented to improve the national infrastructure to interconnect universities in Sierra Leone to high-speed internet. This will build the Sierra Leonean links within the region and globally.

The key points of learning are 1) Policymakers should explore the conditions within the country to strengthen the foundations for research to be effective; 2) It is essential to bring together ICT experts, librarians and researchers from the beginning, and to develop a shared vision; 3) The Ebola outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of investment in e-Learning and the development of the national ICT infrastructure and campus networks, and finally, 4) the identification and involvement of dynamic and committed people and/or change movers are vital to ensure sustainability.


By Dr Thomas Philip Songu (PhD)

CEO, Sierra Leone Research & Education Network, Sierra Leone

ICT Director, Njala University, University Njala, Sierra Leone