Step Up Wins International Research Competition

Step Up Consulting is one of the 15 research teams across the world awarded by the International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations to undertake research on how to accelerate digital inclusion during the COVID-19 recovery globally.

The research competition, dubbed as Connect2Recover aims to “reinforce and
strengthen the digital infrastructure and digital ecosystems of beneficiary countries as they
adjust in the wake of COVID-19 and remain resilient in times of disasters”. The research competition is one of the preliminary activities of the initiative aimed at “identifying the
gaps and bottlenecks in the effective use of digital networks and technologies”.

Step Up Consulting team will consist of Michael Canares and frequent collaborator Francois Van Schalkwyk of Stellenbosch University based in South Africa. The project will focus on the connection of marginalized university students during and after the covid-19 pandemic to new modes of higher education delivery to ensure greater inclusion and unlock the socio-economic development potential of higher education. The issue of emergency remote teaching and learning in higher education and the consequences of this shift on marginalized students given the challenges of unevenly distributed ICT infrastructure and internet affordability has received some attention in the media and, to a lesser extent, in the academic literature.

However, little has been done to synthesise the observations and information on the issue, especially across multiple contexts. Nor have efforts been made to connect the covid-19 experience to the broader literature on infrastructure, access and inclusion. This research project will provide new knowledge related to digital inclusion and will build on previous research undertaken in this area, specifically previous research undertaking by the research team that showed how data activation, intermediaries and the distribution of power are key determinants of digital inclusion (Van Schalkwyk & Canares 2020). The proposed research project will bring into the constellation of determinants the role of ICT infrastructure in fostering sustainable digital inclusion, especially in the context of education.