African universities linked to European and US Universities

Mar 25, 1997 01:00 AM

Mar. 5, 1997 Plagued by lack of funds, broken down equipment and out-of-date and looted libraries, African universities may soon receive a lifeline from cyberspace. Under an ambitious pilot project to be launched by the World Bank, 10 universities in six nations are to be connected through what is being called the African Virtual University (AVU), an online link to high-tech universities in Europe and the United States.
The project was finalised after a recent workshop in the Ethiopian capital attended by academics from eight African countries and representatives from universities and donor agencies in the United States and Ireland. In a background paper presented at the Feb. 17-20 workshop the World Bank said the project's main objective was to tap new information technologies in an effort to overcome the many financial and physical barriers that prevent students at African universities from gaining access to quality higher education. The paper said most African universities were becoming increasingly irrelevant in a rapidly changing world, graduating a disproportionate number of students in the humanities rather than the sciences and engineering.
Making use of computer networks linking Africa to the West, participating universities in the US and Ireland will provide packaged academic programs, particularly in science, engineering and business. Edward Jaycox, a senior advisor to World Bank president James Wolfensohn, said African universities are facing enormous difficulties, including declining budgets, lack of qualified instructors and out-dated academic programs which fail to meet local needs.
Etienne Baranshamaje, the World Bank's AVU project manager, said the program would focus on upgrading the declining quality of teaching at universities in sub-Saharan Africa. Baranshamaje said most university libraries on the continent are out of date and lacked new technological reference materials, problems that the AVU, through online information services, could solve.
AVU is expected to be particularly relevant in African countries like Ethiopia that are emerging from prolonged wars and whose work forces lack vital technical skills. Governments and private sector organisations in need of continuous professional training for their employees are also expected to benefit. AVU will be financed by a $ 1.2 mm grant from the World Bank. Intelsat will provide the transponder capacity for the pilot AVU, the first continental organisation in Africa to be linked by satellite. If the pilot project proves successful, the World Bank hopes AVU will eventually be connected to a much larger consortium of universities, governments, private organisations, professional associations and foundations throughout the world.
Ten universities in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe will initially participate in the project. Other universities across Africa are expected to be included at a later stage.

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