Planning the Autumn: New Directions

Yellow leaves on Tree, Lempdes

It is September and I am back on the blog. Over the summer, I decided to take an extended social media break after reading rhetoric expert Elaine Eksvärd’s post about being present with family (in Swedish). So I was just that: present. With the family I moved apartments, we went on a little trip, swam in Stockholm’s many water bodies and played many rounds of cards!

But now the air is crisp and some leaves are turning yellow, kids are in school and I am back behind the keyboard, working, and planning the autumn. Being a teacher at heart, this time of year smells of new beginnings, new possibilities, and “bouquets of sharpened pencils” as it was phrased in the film “You’ve Got Mail”. To top it off, my PostDoc at NAI is coming to an end in December so I am also planning for the next stage of my career. Probably more on that in another blog post soon!

Speaking of my workplace, we are now back in the office one day a week and that feels somehow perfect. The Covid-19 pandemic meant we were fully Working From Home and although that saved me a pretty long commute, I do miss having a workplace and colleagues. One day a week is perfect for fitting important meetings, water-cooler-small-talk — without feeling constantly on the hamster-wheel like commuting sometimes do.

For this fall, I am continuously working on the project The Space and Role of Political Science in the Evolving Democratic Transformation in Africa – right now on two papers: the first is about curriculum development in some selected African universities’ political science departments and the second on bibliometric data or research output in the social sciences in our case countries.

In addition to that, I have listed the papers I want to finish from other projects (read: the dissertation), the books I want to read (and maybe write a few book reviews?), the people I want to meet, even if by a 2m distance, the food I want to cook (this time of year is so food-fantastic!), and the blog and Instagram posts I want to share.

A few weeks ago, I did not think this feeling would come, but here it is: I am welcoming the autumn and all that comes with it!

What are your autumn plans?

Slow and Small Victories: Getting an Academic Paper Published

Academia is not a place for fast turnarounds. Last week, I reached a milestone which was the result of intense efforts starting 13 years ago when I first decided to apply for a Ph.D. position in migration studies at the University of Ghana. Now, this milestone quietly appeared as an automated email among many in my inbox. The communication indicated that the first paper out of my thesis had been published in a peer-reviewed journal!

Find the paper in full (open access) here: Student migration aspirations and mobility in the global knowledge society: The case of Ghana

The journal is called the Journal of International Mobility and is a French journal – I just love how abstract and bio is also available in another language. It is also an open-access journal meaning researchers and others can read it for free and download /télécharcher it as it is not behind a paywall. I found it as they were publishing work on academic mobility, international student migration and I thought it could be a good fit.

What does it mean to publish a paper?

This means a section of my research is now available for easy consumption and critique. That means I am part of a global conversation about my topic, much more than if I only left results in my 300+ page dissertation (PDF). In this paper, I chose to focus on my quantitative data (two more papers out of my thesis yet to be published have a more qualitative focus drawing on focus groups and interviews) on student migration aspirations.

Morover, I contextualize the situation for student migrants out of the global south – unequal access to higher education, under- and unemployment after graduation, hardship acquiring visas to further studies abroad, the global knowledge society where student migrants provide 3% of trade in services in the OECD. I explain how Ghana is a good case study with outmigration among highly skilled close to Africa’s average and high levels of graduate unemployment. I review the international student migration (ISM) literature and suggest students from the global south are understudied. I ask: “Do students from the global south aspire to be mobile? Are they mobile? How do they experience the global knowledge society?” With survey data from 467 Ghanaian students I respond to these questions and find that (quoting from the abstract, or summary):

…the students aspire to migrate, mostly for educational reasons. However, many of these students also aspire to return, others to live transnational lives, and one in twelve students surveyed are not interested in migrating—that is, in leaving Ghana for more than one year. These results show that university students in Ghana often imagine their future at home, but their life strategies include graduate school and gaining work experience abroad. Hence, mobility, but perhaps not necessarily migration, is a central feature of their life aspirations.

What does it really mean to me to publish a paper?

Emotionally, the email and publication shook me to the core. It has been such a long ride and now this seems…small?

Late nights transcribing interviews, tabulating survey data. Versions of this paper dating back to 2017. Having a colleague critique and then rewriting the paper. Getting it rejected once. Getting many comments on what is now the published paper, but pressing through. It was hard until the end, too… The final edited version I had to correct twice (a misunderstanding meant the copyeditor needed the changes in a different format). The emails sent to ask for an update on the process.

Now, I had the email blinking a URL at me on the screen with a “published” in a sentence next to it.

Was this it?

Cheers to a published paper! Photo: Eliza K.

After a drink with my husband to celebrate, and this email to tell you all, I am pressing on with other slow, thoughtful, and important scholarly work. But after taking a few weeks of vacation!

Read more about my Ph.D. project on its website StudentMigrationAspirations.com

Guest Blog Post at ESSA Website

In an ongoing collaboration with Education Subsaharan Africa (ESSA), I was invited to write a blog post for them. I chose to write about the problem of reliable and comparable data on higher education in African countries for ESSA’s “Doing more with Data”-series.

I write:

This year, 9.8 million students in Africa were not able to go to their universities as they used to because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The aggregated estimate (UNESCO) covers the continent as a whole. This data reminds us of a major issue for the African higher education sector – there is not enough detailed, open and recent data to make good policy and research.

While higher education in Africa struggles with resources, relevance and impact it is easy to forget the issue of data for planning. The adage about a group of people describing the different parts of an elephant — and coming back with widely different conclusions about the animal based on describing the trunk or the tail, reminds us of the complex issue at hand.  Policy makers, university administrators and researchers of higher education all need quality and timely data points from all levels of the sector: individual departments, universities, countries, regions and continents.

At the Nordic Africa Institute we have been mapping the discipline of political science on the continent, we realized it was impossible to find comparable data on the number of students by discipline over time. The same was true for data on professors in the discipline.

To align this with the elephant story, without a systematic way of describing the sector, we end up with confusing data. With such difficulties it is hard to conclude on basic trends: if the discipline is growing or declining, and subsequently what links the size of the discipline has to democratization and transparent governance…

Read the whole blog post on ESSA’s Website.

State of Open Access and its Implications on African Researchers: Notes from a webinar and an interview with Joy Owango

Joy Owango, Photo borrowed from Africabusinesscommunities.com

Recently, I attended a webinar on the state of open access in Africa where I had a particular use of every presentation, focusing on support for early-career researchers like myself. See my notes with links below. The program was organized by the Training Center in Communication and led by its founding director Joy Owango. After the webinar, I made an interview with Joy Owango and will share some of the highlights of out 45-minute call, but I have cut out our children in both Kenya and Sweden joining us!

  1. What is Training Centre in Communication, (TCC Africa )?

We are a center that supports researchers’  in increasing their research output through training in scholarly and science communication.  In addition to this we host monthly thought leadership webinars on capacity building for early career researchers with a focus on open science.

In the beginning, the focus of the center was supporting researchers communicating among themselves, particularly how to write academic papers that could be understood at multidisciplinary levels. Within five years, we broadened the scope and started supporting researchers on how to communicate with non-scientists, even as we are going through this process, I increasingly noted the challenges early career researchers faced in the process of academic publishing. 

Before we start crucifying researchers about not being able to write, we need to ask, how are they getting resources for their research discovery? Just by answering this question, our model transformed, which, included providing open access discovery solutions to support their research lifecycle. We do not just offer training, but also advisory services, where we guide institutions on how to set up research and grant offices and also guide governments on ways they can improve on monitoring their research output especially with the support of open data. Before the COVID19 Pandemic hit Africa, we were in Malawi and guided the Government of Malawi through the National Commission of Science and Technology on how they can use  Scientometrics and open access data in monitoring research output from the country.

2. What is your funding model?

We are a not for profit organization with a self-sustainable business model, where we charge for our services, and as a result, funding is one of the revenue streams.

3. Do you apply for grants?

Yes, we compete for grants as well, however, it is not our main revenue stream, as it comes with the objectives of the donor and rarely in line with our objectives as such we work with donors who support early career researchers regardless of research background in improving their research output.  As a result of this, the donors we have chosen to work with support multidisciplinary research backgrounds and are not restricted to the research interest areas of the  African continent (namely research in, health, agriculture, and climate change). This decision was deliberate and  15 years later, we have survived and are self-sustainable. We have seen programs similar to ours come and go as they are 100%  reliant on funding and we did not want that as we wanted a more sustainable approach to supporting early career researchers in improving their research output through training.

4. What do you see as the most important issues for higher education on the continent?

Open Science. In its totality from data, infrastructure to academic publishing. Open science is the glue that holds together good quality scientific output from research discovery, academic publishing to dissemination. When a researcher is unable to complete his research due to paywalls, you understand their academic fatigue. Taking a postgraduate course is not easy and limited access to resources to conduct your research can be very frustrating. It was because of the frustrations and academic fatigue  I noted in researchers we trained that we thought of getting research industry partners, who supported open science.   So when we tell researchers, “you need to be involved in the process of scholarly communication”, it is really the whole research life cycle, from research idea, writing the paper,  and the whole process behind it, that helps you write that paper!

5. You founded TCC already in 2006, what is your own journey to where you are now?

From experience, I remember in the early 2000s’  I was studying for a postgraduate certificate in Mass communication research and the only library in Nairobi that had the latest resources in my research area was at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). For five days I sat in that library until 8 pm when they shut down, I  would sit outside until midnight as I needed access to the library Wi-Fi and the resources. Fortunately, ILRI is within a campus full of early career researchers, so no one bothered me.  This was a typical scenario that early career researchers may face in pursuit of resources for their research discovery process.

If your own university does not have subscriptions to the journals you need, as a student, you are stranded. Even then, I did not understand how bad it was until I got to work with Clarivate Analytics, then Thomson Reuters, and I was like “hold on! this is what I have been asking for… Access to data. But  all the good data is behind a paywall!” 

When we are talking about open access it is not just journals, it is the whole system! It’s not just “Oh, I want the full-text journal!”, no, it is the research discovery system that needs to be open. I understand there is a business model to it, but it needs to be open because a majority of self-sponsored researchers who may not have adequate support systems fall through the cracks and are unable to complete their education due to lack of resources. In essence, open science democratizes education.

You can watch the Webinar which was broadcast live on Facebook here.

Joy Owango, TCC

Plan S, an initiative for making open science a reality

Dimensions.ai open access publication data

Elizabeth Merincola, African Academy of Science Open Science

No charge, funded by grants directly.

Main point: The impact factor is not a valid quality measure!

Osman Aldirdiri, AfricArxiv

This is a preprint platform, so no peer-review, no charge!

Sherpa /Romeo, data on journals!

Preprint, Postprint, Open access journal, Predatory Publishing

Matt Hodgekinson, Hindawi

Open access journals since 2007 (220 peer-reviewed journals)

Better access to research for researchers in resources limited situations

Article processing charge (APC), payment when published (Waivers for Africa based researchers and others)

Other models: Open Library of Humanities , CIELO

***

My own reflections from the seminar are that sitting in the middle of the information age exploding, it is easy to just get tired and not research well where you “host” your research, however, it is as important as ever. All the links I shared above are mindblowing in their own way, it is actually as exciting as it is tiring! But you need to understand how to make your research visible and readable to the constituencies you write for! As Joy shared, open access publications in the last two years are many (44%) and growing fast from Africa, however not all fields are well-represented.

The movement toward open science is in a way a “going back” to the foundations of science – sharing progress for the common good – and public and private funders are now going back to this ideal. As a researcher believing in the public good of science, I believe all of us have a responsibility to publish our data and findings open access.

Policy Note on Key Challenges for African Universities

Last month, the NAI policy note I have been working on for a while now was published. Find it here: Resources, Relevance, and Impact – Key Challenges for African Universities. (link to PDF)

Abstract

Global and regional goals, such as Agenda 2030 and the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa, foreground higher education as an engine for development and job creation. Yet, many African universities perform weakly in international comparison. This policy note looks at the challenges in strengthening the freedom, relevance and impact of research and higher education in Africa.

The Recommendations In Short

Writing for Clarity

As a researcher who is also a blogger, I am very much interested in the availability and ease of use of my research. Even though I went into the process of writing for a policy audience highly motivated, I was challenged by the level of work that goes into a shorter paper simplifying the issues.

After writing and rewriting a text that in the end was 1000 words longer than the format, I had several of my researcher colleagues read early drafts and come with comments – especially how to phrase recommendations and limit the scope I found tricky. Next, our communication unit read the text and we had conversations on what aspects to visualize and what to cut out, and then there was (very much needed) language editing. It is actually quite scary when I saw how many words can be altered for clarity, thinking about how I have gladly been pressing “publish” on the blog for many years without any such editing! Then a few back-and-forth-emails on final titles, illustrations and other details – and then four months later – voilà: The finished Policy Note.

Please download, share, and let me hear your comments!

Black Lives Matter: “There is no social contract”, says Trevor Noah

These days, just like many others, I am keenly following everything on the Black Lives Matter protests in the Unites States, and in the last days the rest of the world including 1000s on the street here in Stockholm. Is now the time racism will finally die? I think of my friends in the US and wonder how they are feeling. I look for Instagram posts about white allyship. I sit with long-reads tracing the history of racism. An eerie feeling rises: nothing of this is new.

The best input so far, I feel, is a heartfelt 18 minute clip by talk show host (and house god) Trevor Noah. He argues that the protests were to be expected as the US social contract was repeatedly trashed when black citizens daily have to fear for their lives by law enforcement.

“Why should the citizens of a society adhere to the laws when the law-enforcers themselves don’t?”, as Trevor Noah puts it.

The social contract is an idea, a thought model for what a society is. I taught social contract theory in my Social Theory class at Ashesi University in Ghana for 10 years, so I immediately liked this way of understanding the situation at hand. The social contract, even in its cruelest, most authoritarian form as expressed by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan has one caveat – when your life is threatened…when your life does not matter to the leadership, the social contract no longer exists. When the society is no longer protecting you, you are back in the state of nature, the “all against all” situation where there are no more any rules – because what do you have to lose if your life is at stake?

To educate ourselves about the history behind the racism we see across the globe and to discuss how that reality is relevant today, the Social Theory class also read Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyesi’s novel Homegoing (I can very much recommend it) which follows the descendants of two sisters from Ghana – one sold into slavery and transported over the seas to the US, one staying in green Ghana. The message that Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora are connected is driven home well-well. In a post from 2016 related to this issue, Ghanaian blogger Jamila Abdulai wrote,

“I’ve been observing the lack of dialogue on the Black Lives Matter cause and racism in America among Africans, particularly on the continent, with great trepidation. Sure, some of us are sharing one or two articles, but we are largely silent on the issue, not uttering a word. Not to mention the fact that there hasn’t so much as been a beep from our so-called leaders either. That’s why I’m writing this. To appeal to your conscious, to plead with you to wake up.”

But maybe there are things that are new, this time around. This time, Ghana’s president Akuffo-Addo did share a statement that I think it is worth reposting.

White people also do better on acknowledging the movement this time around, at least on my timelines. People share resources and hashtags, seem to be learning about racism and allyship just like myself, and express support. I especially liked a post talking about “black people’s joy and thriving” as the goal beyond black lives matter.

While the protests continue, at home we have daily conversations on what it means to be black or white in Ghana, Sweden, and the world today. I know many other families in Sweden have similar conversations. We think about the changes over time and frankly, we are impatient with the slow change.

I watch the clips. I read everything I can find. I unlearn and learn my own role.  I shudder at the evil in this world.

I also smile when I see how many of us support the struggle. Will we live to see racism wiped out, will we experience a broad understanding of that black lives matter and see racism replaced with true humanism, respect for life, and black joy?

A few ways to support the cause in Sweden: (Please add more in the comments!)

Back to Blogging: What Readers Want (spoiler: it’s not what I thought!)

My outdoor desk, complete with … Can you recognize the plants?

When returning to my blog, I asked you what you would like to read. When taking up the blog, in my mind I was thinking along the lines of:

  • Professional updates
  • Links to talks and publications
  • My view of differences between work in Sweden and Ghana
  • Discussions around parenting /Activities with kids

But what you want is….personal, feelings and other mushy stuff! Here are some of your questions for me:

  • Sweden, Ghana and How do you feel?
  • How did you re-integrate into Sweden after 12 years in Ghana?
  • What do you miss about Ghana?
  • Why did you go live in Sweden?
  • What have you learned about relationships?

Well, a blog has to listen to its readers, that I know for sure. It also should be my space online. So I will be back with all the above!

Ps. While you wait, you can revisit my first 500 blog posts!

Right answer from image caps: Plants are Ruccola, Chili and Tomato

New Publication: Digital and Decolonial Experiments in the Classroom

At the end of 2018, I sat next to a man in a crowded auditorium at University of Ghana for the International Communication Association Africa conference (ICA Africa). I introduced myself and after the opening keynotes (Ghanaian Vice President Bawumiah and Cameroonian Professor Nyamnjoh), we couldn’t help but debrief together on how interesting it was. The man I was talking to was Communications Professor Kehbuma Langmia of Howard University. As we stood there, I told him about my work at Ashesi University, he attended my Policy Lab presentation on Internet Freedoms, and later invited me to contribute a chapter to a book he was putting together. Now the book Digital Communications at Crossroads in Africa: A Decolonial Approach is out!

In my chapter, Digital Communication Tools in the Classroom as a Decolonial Solution: Pedagogical Experiments from Ashesi University in Ghana, I argue digital communication tools like Twitter and Wikipedia can decolonize not just minds, but classrooms too, as the tools support students and lecturers together to rethink, reimagine, and reshape knowledge production.

In the chapter, thought hard about the idea — at this point-in-time almost catchphrase — “decolonizing the university” and what it really means, like HOW do we DO it? As part of understanding the many possible meanings, I outlined five aspects of decolonizing the university. I deduced it is ultimately about sharing power with students, examining implications about what we include and exclude in our classroom conversations and course outlines, changing the content, providing epistemological access, and finally decolonizing also the institutions.

After arriving at these five aspects of decolonizing the university, I wanted to say something about how digital communication tools can address or bridge these aspects. See figure below.

If you click on the linked button below, you can get a preview of my chapter.

I would love to hear what you think of my ideas and the operationalization of decolonization of universities into five aspects. What did I overstate or miss entirely? Do you agree digital tools can be of help or are they merely new, sexier methods to further colonize the world-at-large by the few?

I would like to thank the editors of the volume Dr. Agnes Lucy Lando of Daystar University, Kenya and Dr. Kehbuma Langmia for open arms and good collaboration, Open Foundation West Africa for assisting with Wikimedia in the classroom, and colleagues and students at Ashesi University, Ghana.

Happy Africa Day

Today, it was #AfricaDay and I did not celebrate very much from my bland WFH reality, but I thought I would share what little things I did do!

Africa Unity Speech May 24, 1963

My friend Emmanuel Gamor of the podcast Unpacking Africa sent an email with this video and I really enjoyed it. Check out the pod which is full of interesting voices!

Africa Union Day or Africa Day for short is a holiday in African countries and celebrates the African Union and efforts of African unity. In Ghana, children wear traditional clothes for school the day before the holiday and learn about other African countries.

My girls in head wraps at their school some years back on Africa Day.

As it is a holiday, there is a lot of merry-making. Two videos I came across on Instagram which made me smile came from these accounts – not sure though if they are meant to be #AfricaDay themed…

https://www.instagram.com/dancegodlloyd/

and

https://www.instagram.com/wiyaala/

…but always good content there! So I thought of something my mother-in-law always say, “happy yourself”! And with a little help from the content above, I did just that!

Back to Basics: Blogging as a way of Dealing (with Crisis, with Life!)

WFH desk made from a ironing board
DIY WFH desk, made from an ironing board and a computer stand.

My blog has been quiet for a long time, more or less for a year with a few professional updates. I have gotten a few questions on this, and it is not due to lack of content! Actually more has happened in the last year than in previous years: I changed jobs, moved my family to a new (that’s how it felt, but it is my native) country. On top, I revisited everything I knew about relationships. Despite these upheavals (or maybe because of them?) I was no more sure about how to write on the blog or even what the point of it was. Every now and then, I’d read another blog and remember –  with a deep sigh –  my own was dormant, but still, I would not know how to return.

If last year was humbling and full of change and surprise, the Corona virus and ensuing world crisis add a whole new dimension of uncertainty and dread…but also new experiences and hope.

I cannot promise anything, but I will try to return to the blog. I think I can see now how having a presence online is helpful to my professional pursuits, maybe especially when the world – and with it, my career – is changing. It is a place to write about what I see, read, and do. It is a place to practice my writing – as I would say to my students, you can always get better! Writing about something is also a way to learn. And having a blog is a basic and practical way to approach life and its constant challenges. So, let see how it goes. For starters I updated the look and made it easier to read on your handheld device.

Now, what do you want to read about? Drop me a comment!

Guest Lecture at Uppsala University African Studies Course: Closing the Circle

In November, I was invited to give a lecture in the African Studies course at Uppsala University. The lecture was to be based on my research, preferably with a link to African youth as that was a theme for this year’s course. I chose the topic: University students in Ghana, Migration Aspirations and the Colonial University.

The lecture focused on decolonial thought, reasons for studying abroad and the situation for Ghanaian and African students at this moment. The class was small, engaged and were happy to interact. Several of the students were also exchange students which led to a reflexive discussion.

I invited a Ghanaian student, Claudia Esi Dentu, a former student of mine to come co-lecture with me. Claudia just happened to be in Sweden this semester on an exchange program with Ashesi University and Malardalens University.

The lead for the course we visited was also a former colleague from Ashesi University, Clementina Amanquaah who now is a Ph.D. student and lecturer at Uppsala University. It felt powerful to reunite with people from the past in my first guest lecture at Uppsala University!

As I was a student of this African Studies course back in the day, I was quite happy to be able to guest lecture in it. It was a closing-the-circle kind of evening!

New Job: PostDoctoral Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute

Photo: Mattias Sköld, NAI

Last month, I began a new adventure as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the institute founded by the Nordic countries in 1961 to collect information about Africa, NAI. Today it is supported by the Swedish, Finnish and Icelandic governments. The institute has researchers organized in different clusters such as,

  • Inclusive growth, poverty and inequality in urban and rural Africa
  • Climate change and sustainable development
  • Gender equality
  • Conflict, security and democratic transformation
  • Mobility and migration

In addition, the institute has a fantastic library on Africa with many resources available online.

The institute also publishes policy notes and booklets (a recent one on Ghana’s female representation in parliament for instance by NAI researcher  Diana Højlund Madsen).

I will be working within a fascinating project led by Prof Liisa Laakso that aims to bring together political scientists in Africa and map the political science discipline. Initial research questions for the project called The Space and Role of Political Science in the Evolving Democratic Transformation in Africa are:

  • What is studied and taught about political systems in Africa?
  • Where are political science graduates employed?
  • Do political scientists feature in public discussion and media?
  • In what ways do they contribute to preparatory work on electoral laws, constitutional changes etc.?
  • Do they cooperate with political parties and how?

Except for a semester as a research assistant and my recent sabbatical, I have never done research fulltime and am enjoying it wholeheartedly so far. Thinking! Reading! Collecting data! Strategizing! Networking! (Missing students knocking on my door!) Except for helping in answering the research questions for the project, I hope to learn more about the research process, research applications and funding, best practices in data collection and more.

The position is a postdoctoral research position which means it is a time-limited research position (18 months), where I am working on a research project with a supervisor. It is the next step up from the PhD in learning how to be a researcher!

NAI is housed in the light yellow building behind the Baroque orangery. Photo: Jarvis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16318254

My new workplace is situated inside the most beautiful Botanical garden in Uppsala, just a stone’s throw away from my alma mater Uppsala University and my office has African cloth as decoration on the wall, making me feel very much at home.

You can see my online profile here and I can from now be reached on Kajsa.hallberg.adu (at ) nai.uu.se or on the first floor in the light yellow building in the Botanical Garden