Government announces plan for a virtual university

In an effort to ease the burden of overcrowded universities and improve access to higher education, the government of Côte d’Ivoire has announced the creation of a digital university to boost distance education.

Called Université Numérique de Côte d’Ivoire or UNCI – Digital University of Ivory Coast – the institution will be established with the help of l’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie and could begin operating in early 2015.

It was unveiled by Higher Education Minister Gnamien Konan at Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in the middle-class suburb of Cocody in Abidjan, economic capital of the West African nation of 22 million, according to a 21 December press report.

The Digital University of Ivory Coast aims to modernise higher education and research by developing information and communication technologies for online and distance education.

The Ivorian government will invest FCFA7 billion (US$12.6 million) to boost distance learning availability and quality by providing the infrastructure required for the project, such as ICT equipment, teaching staff, programme design and access to the internet outside urban areas, which will be pivotal to the university’s success.

The l’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, a global network of French-speaking higher education and research institutions, will assist the digital university with the development of an inventory of online courses that are accessible and in line with Ivorian needs – including teacher training programmes – as well as the creation of massive open online courses or MOOCs and training in ICTs and the internet for first level students.

Lack of infrastructure, computer equipment, qualified human resources and the high cost of ICT materials are the main challenges to the use of ICTs in education in Côte d’Ivoire, according to the World Bank report, ICT in Education in Côte D’Ivoire.

To deal with these challenges, the Ivorian Network for Education and Research or RITER was launched in 2012 to help modernise higher education through sharing educational and research resources and improving quality.

Also, a US$210 million project to lay fibre optic network across Ivory Coast is underway. The network should allow the country to connect up to 30% of its population to broadband internet by 2018.