Universities to go ‘virtual’ with new video facilities

Kenyan public universities and colleges are to go virtual in teaching and communication, with all of them set to get video conferencing facilities in a more than US$10 million project supported by the government and African Development Bank.

The facilities are expected to be in place from June this year after the two partners find an organisation to supply and install the equipment and train personnel on its maintenance and use by staff and students.

Under the project to be undertaken with a loan advanced to Kenya’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology by the bank, all public universities – including the 15 recently upgraded from ‘constituent college’ status and select middle-level technical colleges – will be linked to the video conferencing system.

This will enable them to offer virtual teaching, interviews and conferencing, helpful not only to learners but to institutions’ administrators as well.

The project is to be implemented under the government’s Support for Enhancement of Quality and Relevance of Higher Education Science and Technology (HEST) programme, which has been granted a US$43 million loan, signed last November, by the African Development Bank.

Over and above the video link project, part of the loan will be deployed to acquire laboratory and workshop equipment for technical training colleges and “technology-leaning public universities”, most of which have been using outdated equipment for teaching.

For the first time, Kenyan universities will widely adopt video-assisted communication methods as a mode of teaching.

Only one public institution, Kenyatta University, is currently using this method at its virtual learning centre. The African Virtual University also uses the technology at its Nairobi campus, but the numbers of students benefiting from the facility are few and mainly adult, evening learners.

Dr Patrick Mbataru, a lecturer at Kenyatta University’s school of enterprise, said video conferencing technology would have many applications in higher education including in teaching, conferencing and interviews.

There will be teaching via video link when a lecturer is not able to be physically in the classroom, and students will be able to ask questions through two-way links.

“University authorities will also find the facilities useful in conducting interviews with prospective employees as well as to address large groups of students and staff,” he told University World News.

To survive in the digital age, Mbataru said higher education institutions needed to adopt new technologies. “While everybody agrees that technology is expensive, universities in Kenya have no choice but to invest in it if they are to meet the challenges of this and coming centuries, and offer quality and competitive education,” he argued.

The Kenyan government and bank will open tenders for the project on 30 April in Nairobi.