India-African virtual university: opportunities and challenges

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By Theresa Mallinson

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the Plenary Session of the Second Africa-India Forum Summit in Addis Ababa, on 24 May 2011. His speech focused less on specific trade initiatives, and more on India's role in providing aid for African development, as well as setting up institutions for capacity building. In this regard, Singh said: “I am happy to announce that India will continue to support efforts at infrastructure development, regional integration, capacity building and human resource development in Africa.”

Talking about the money involved, Singh committed India to providing: “US$5 billion for the next three years under lines of credit to help achieve the development goals of Africa. We will offer an additional $700 million to establish new institutions and training programmes in consultation with the African union and its institutions.”

Singh emphasised in particular Africa and India's long-standing partnership in the field of education. He stated that: “[W]e would like to make education in India and enriching experience for each student who comes from Africa”, and announced that the number of scholarships for African students studying in India would be increased to 900.

A further announcement regarded the establishment of an India-Africa virtual university. “Following the success of the Pan-African E-Network Project we propose to take the next step and establish an India-Africa Virtual University,” said Singh. “This we hope will help to meet some of the demands in Africa for higher studies in Indian institutions. We further propose that 10,000 new scholarships under this proposed University will be available for African students after its establishment.”

It was unclear whether this virtual university would accept African students only, or whether Indian students would also be granted the opportunity to study there. “It seems as if India will be providing training for the students; it would be a way of furthering the established partnership that they have in terms of providing scholarships to African students,” said Hayley Herman, programme officer at Fahamu's emerging powers in Africa initiative.

“I think the idea of a virtual university also speaks to India's traditional strength in terms of ICT. The challenge will be in terms of implementation, and whether they will be able to adequately deal with the bureaucratic procedures.” Herman pointed out that this held for many of the commitments in terms of institutions that the Africa-India partnership proposes to build, and was not a challenge facing the virtual university exclusively.

A virtual university in Africa is not a new idea. The African Virtual University was originally launched by the World Bank in Washington in 1997; its headquarters were transferred to Nairobi in 2005. According to an article on the VirtualCampuses.eu website: “Its greatest asset is its ability to work across borders and language groups in Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone Africa.” Meeting the challenges of multi-lingual teaching is something that the Africa-India Virtual University will have to accomplish, if it is to be a truly Pan-African initiative.

Of course, another big challenge is the infrastructure that is required for a virtual institution of learning. Quoting a research paper, the Virtual Campuses article notes: “In the case of the AVU, when the internet connection was good, courses consisted of synchronous lectures delivered from Canada... Given frequent instances of internet disconnections or power outage, the synchronous version of the delivery was backed up by a WebCT site, where students could find course materials they missed... given the combination of students’ awfully poor typing skills and the novelty of the subject matter, even short interactions with distant tutors would take disproportionate amounts of time and be subjected to numerous distortions.” India's much-vaunted ICT expertise will have to be brought to bear be in improving telecommunications infrastructure African, so that such problems will not also plague the newly proposed university. And, if the project is a success, this telecommunications upgrade will be of benefit far beyond the students studying at the university.

But, as with so much discussed at the India-Africa Forum Summit, we will have to wait some time before we are able to evaluate the practical achievements. The fact that Singh gave part of his speech enveloped in a ghostly glow, when the lights in the AU plenary chamber briefly went out, is just one indicator of the massive infrastructure upgrade that a project such as the India-African Virtual University will require.

 

  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit