AFRICA-CANADA: Poverty project produces graduates

Nearly 50 computer scientists from four Francophone West African countries have just graduated as a result of a Canadian development project aimed at reducing poverty in Africa by producing high-level skills. A further 125 students should graduate next year from a distance learning degree programme, run as a partnership between Université Laval in Quebec and nine African universities. The project is being funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and managed by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the African Virtual University.

"This type of initiative produces the kind of professionals necessary to attract investment to African countries," Walid Madhoun, director of international technical cooperation at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) told University World News. The idea is to help create an enabling environment for private sector development by building key entrepreneurial skills such as computer scientists and programmers, he added.

The truly international Programme d'Informatique de l'Université Laval a l'Afrique Francophone - jointly designed by Université Laval, the African Virtual University and the AUCC, which represents 92 Canadian universities and colleges - is being delivered to two cohorts of Francophone African students.

The first started the degree course in 2004 at universities in five countries - Benin, Burundi, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal - and the students attended graduation ceremonies around West Africa this month. A second group of more than 125 students began studying in 2006 and will graduate in 2009. It is unlikely there will be funding for the programme after that.

In collaboration with the African universities, Université Laval professors lecture the students via webcast: "Students are able to see the professors' power point slide shows, ask questions and listen to questions from students in other countries. Local tutors at their own universities support the students," the AUCC said in a statement.

Most of the new graduates plan to remain in their countries and contribute to the local workforce and economy. Walid Madhoun said that a number had already opened small consultancy businesses and had been awarded some contracts.

Others are planning to study for masters degrees in Europe or Canada. Three have been awarded full scholarships through the Programmes des bourses de la Francophonie, which is also managed by AUCC, and have chosen to study a masters in computer science at Université Laval.

"Those who wish to continue their studies abroad and achieve masters and PhDs will strengthen programming in future at African universities," said Madhoun. "Even if these students don't return to Africa immediately but remain in Canada for further studies, they represent important potential for creating future business networks with Africa and Canada, as we have seen from strong diaspora networks between our country and the African continent."