New satellite could deliver MOOCs to Africa

Massive open online courses – MOOCs – could soon be delivered from the sky to remote areas in Africa, following the launch of the Inmarsat satellite, the Alphabus, an international higher education conference was told this week.

Originally conceived as a means of bringing broadband to parts of Africa and elsewhere that do not have mobile coverage, the seven-and-a-half tonne satellite could also help to deliver educational opportunities to thousands, if not millions, of Africans – if UK Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has his way.

He attended the satellite's launch in French Guinea in July and suggested to Inmarsat, the global connectivity company, that it should work with Pearson and other UK education providers to harness the potential that MOOCs offers to beam information and knowledge directly into classes in areas that do not have broadband.

Willetts was speaking on the second day of a conference on “The International Higher Education Revolution: Impacts on mobility, qualifications and networks”, organised by The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, or OBHE, and held in London from 11-12 December.

The conference looked at current developments in online learning and explored how they might impact on three aspects of international higher education – student mobility, how qualifications are gained, and international networks.

Willetts said: “One of the forms of content that many countries in Africa are desperate for is education.”

Until now, much of the focus on developing higher education services had been directed to Asia and Latin America, but Africa promised to be “the next big thing”.

Willetts told University World News that he thought countries like Nigeria and Uganda as well as South Africa offered enormous opportunities for expansion.

“It may well be that Central Africa offers big opportunities too. It will be up to Inmarsat to respond to the market, but I think MOOCs offer the possibilities of making this happen.”

Other speakers at the conference included Sir Michael Barber, chief education advisor at Pearson; University of Warwick Vice-chancellor Professor Nigel Thrift; head of the International Association of Universities Eva Egron-Polak, and others from around the world.

* There will be more University World News coverage of the OBHE conference in next week’s edition.