In Africa, Accelerating A Continent-Wide Virtual University

At Gaston Berger University
At Gaston Berger University
Cheick Lamane Diop

SAINT-LOUIS — The African Virtual University is hardly a new project, as it was first founded in 1997 by the World Bank as an ambitious attempt to expand higher education across the continent. It is now run by some 15 African governments, but officials have looked for ways to expand it as Africa looks to catch up on its technological development.

In July, the chancellor of Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis, in northern Senegal, launched Phase Two of the project for multinational support financed by the African Development Bank. The project, in which 27 universities from 21 different countries are involved, represents a chance to both relieve university congestion and democratize higher education.

Professor Bakary Diallo, chancellor of the African Virtual University, with its two main offices in Nairobi and Dakar, says that more than 43,000 African students have already benefited from it.

“The objective now is to reinforce the network of institutions so as to create and manage quality teaching and training,” he says. “The priority is the integration of information and communications technology into all programs.”

Diallo notes some of the toughest challenges faced by the African Virtual University, from hardware accessibility (because of the smaller number of computers in Africa compared to other parts of the world) and the creation of centers for distance education or access points. Another problem is the lack of a strong enough Internet bandwidth in some places, though mobile networks along with cellphones and tablets could offer a good alternative.

The popularization of distance learning indeed requires “strong political will and very advanced planning,” says Diallo. The chancellor of the African Virtual University says he’s optimistic that Senegal will be key, after officials at the Ministry for Education committed to opening the the Senegalese Virtual University, which is due to start at the beginning of the next school year in January 2014.

Many ways to save

The democratization potential of distance learning also comes with a financial advantage. In Senegal, education is funded by the state, and the government sees a potential windfall in the Virtual University, where a course taught to 200 students on location can be distributed to thousands across the Internet, saving both on facility overhead and traveling.

The Gaston Berger University has 7,000 students on location, making it Senegal’s second-largest higher education institution. Chancellor Amadou Lamine Guèye says he’s hoping the university’s strategic plan will attract an extra 5,000 virtual students by the end of 2016.

Such ramping-up would fulfill the strong demand for higher education from recent high school graduates. And with only about 6% of Africans currently attending university, distance learning is a rare opportunity to push that number higher, says Professor Guèye.

Last year, Senegal spent some $10 million on its 30,000 university students. Because the country will not be able to keep spending more and more money, the government made the development of distance learning a national objective.

For Professor Guèye, this is a smart long-term strategy, and requires the necessary initial investments to expand the program. “As soon as the number of students increases, the costs will fall. Not to mention that there won't be any need to spend on accommodation or food anymore,” he said. “The project will be viable as long as good Internet access is guaranteed.”

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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