African Virtual University to launch 29 e-learning centres

In an effort to provide African learners with greater access to higher education opportunities, the African Virtual University, in partnership with the African Development Bank, is launching 29 new open, distance and e-learning centres in 21 African countries.

The African Virtual University is a pan-African inter-governmental organisation with 19 member countries, and is aimed at increasing access to quality higher education through the innovative use of information and communication technologies.

“The cost of a new centre is approximately US$200,000 and the 29 Open Distance and e-Learning Centers should all be installed in the next six to eight months,” Mathias Goldstein, business development manager at the African Virtual University, told University World News.

The centres will be co-located in 27 partner institutions of the African Virtual University, in 21 African countries, and will work across borders and languages.

There are nine Francophone countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal – the three Lusophone countries of Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, and nine Anglophone countries including Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania.

The first launch of one of the new centres took place at the Open University of Sudan on 11 August.

Figures indicate that despite escalating admissions, Sub-Saharan Africa still has only around 6% of the population aged 25-34 in tertiary education, while in the United Kingdom and United States, 60% and 70% of eligible candidates respectively had access to higher education.

To enhance university access, the centres will serve as training facilities for partner institutions’ staff in the use of information and communications technologies for the development, delivery and management of open, distance and e-learning, or ODeL.

They will also be delivery and access points for ODeL with a focus on programmes in areas including teacher education, computer science, and peace and conflict resolution as well as an African Virtual University capacity enhancement programme.

It is intended that the new centres will help to tackle the digital divide by helping Africa to overcome geographical, technological, political and financial obstacles that often hinder students' access to higher education.

Besides strengthening the capacity of some African universities to mainstream open, distance and e-learning into existing curricula and helping universities generate a long-term and sustainable revenue base, the new centres will also create a community of peers that will generate original research on e-learning methodologies.

It is envisioned that after three years, the ODeL centres will generate enough revenue to sustain and expand activities.

The ODeL centres will also strengthen the African Virtual University’s network of distance and e-learning institutions, which are spread across more than 30 African countries.

The 29 new centres are being set up within the Virtual University’s US$15 million multinational project phase II, funded by the African Development Bank.

The project focuses on creating and upgrading ODeL facilities among participating universities, gender mainstreaming through scholarships for woman students, and research and development.