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[DAR ES SALAAM] A new African initiative is to be launched to make dissertations and theses by researchers and students across the continent available online. The move is a bid to increase the worldwide profile and accessibility of research by African scholars.

The initiative, known as the Database for African Theses and Dissertation (DATAD), will be launched in January by the Association of African Universities (AAU). Preliminary development work is already being carried out.

"It makes no sense for each researcher in Africa to keep his own research, or for research to be kept in our [local] library," says Lettice Rutashobya, director for postgraduate studies at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

"An online database will help research to be accessed and read all over the world. Currently what is done by a researcher in Nigeria is not even known about in Tanzania. An online database is likely to solve such problems."

The database will act as a quality-control tool for research conducted in Africa, as its content will be monitored by other researchers, and it will also allow gaps in research to be identified, as well as duplication to be avoided.

Rutashobya adds that sharing knowledge will speed up the process of learning in Africa, and could help secure funding from donors.

DATAD will initially include electronic versions of research carried out since 1990. A second phase will see the addition of research from 1980 to 1990, and in the third phase research conducted before then will be added.

Rutashobya says that the project — which is funded by international donors through the AAU — is already employing staff to prepare electronic versions of theses and dissertations that are currently only available in hard copy.

Matthew Luhanga, vice chancellor at the University of Dar es Salaam, says that about 2,000 abstracts of theses and dissertations from the university are already online. However access to these by other researchers is currently awaiting adoption of a legal framework to protect the work from piracy.

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