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Envisioning The Future of African Universities in Post Crisis. — Recap of Sahara Sparks Beyond 2020

Reflection from the stakeholder's meetup during Sahara Sparks 2020 themed Africa Beyond 2020. The meetup was hosted by Sahara Ventures, Kampala International University (KIU), and Tumaini University Dar es Salaam College (TUDARCo).

According to the International Association of Universities (AIU), Global Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Learning Institutions (HEIs), Africa was the region with the highest percentage of HEIs with campuses closed because of COVID-19, 77 percent of institutions taking part in the survey confirmed to have shut down their activities. This happened very early when Africa had the least number of cases. This might be one of the reasons why the spread of the pandemic was not accelerated through the HEIs. The AIU report suggests more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet were (are) affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nobody was prepared for the crisis of such magnitude including HEIs across the world. African institutions were highly affected due to a lack of infrastructures that would have helped them to cope with the challenges brought about by the crisis. While in Asia & Pacific (99%), the Americas (97%), and Europe (97%) almost all HEIs indicate to have infrastructures in place to communicate about COVID-19, in Africa this percentage was (is) lower (66%).

Most of the African institutions unprepared and informally were forced to explore new ways of remote learning and teaching while struggling with infrastructure, human capital, and regulations. Globally, almost all HEIs involved in the survey of 424 institutions from 109 countries report COVID-19 affected teaching and learning, only 2% of HEIs (7 HEIs) reported that teaching and learning were not affected. Most important to note 4 of the 7 HEIs that reported no effect on teaching and learning are virtual universities.

Part of Sahara Sparks 2020, Africa Beyond 2020 week, Sahara Ventures hosted a co-creation workshop with Kampala International University (KIU) and Tumaini University Dar es Salaam College (TUDARCo) to reflect further on the issue by focusing on four critical areas that highly influenced how the university responded to the crisis; Infrastructure, Human capital, Regulations, and Third-Party Stakeholders. The aim of the workshop was to explore ways how we can propose ways that can make African HEIs more resilient to future crises. We explored these critical areas with respect to what happened during the crisis, how were they affected and what does the future look like, how should we prepare ourselves in case something like this happens again in the future.

Our Framework of Assessment During The Workshop — Sahara Ventures

Infrastructure

From the conversation with stakeholders of the co-creation session. It was very clear that the existing infrastructure of most African universities was not ready to handle such kind of crisis. The European University Association (EUA) survey on “Digitally enhanced learning & teaching” affirms that 95% pivoted to distance learning throughout the institution, while 4% provided it in some faculties. One of the reasons for this level of flexibility from the EU universities was because of having infrastructures in place that allowed flexibility. From our session, we learned in order to be more resilient in the future with respect to the infrastructure we should;

  • Access to High-Quality Internet — the stakeholders proposed the need to have high-quality connectivity within the campus and introduce innovative ways for low-cost internet packages that can be accessed by HEIs students this can be achieved through a strategic collaboration between the industry and the university. Some suggestions were to strike partnerships with Telecom companies and internet service providers. Also, there were some suggestions on the need for interventions from the government to ensure this happens.
  • Video Conferencing Applications — the stakeholders proposed to have standardized tools for offering lessons online to students instead of being forced to rely on commercial applications e.g Zoom, Google Hangout, and others in which some of them have some restrictions in usability especially for free packages as well as possibilities of infringement of copyright issues when they are adopted at the institutional level. Some suggestions on this are to adopt Open Source applications and design them to respond to the needs of the local HEIs. This could be done through strategic partnerships between universities and private companies under the supervision of the regulator.
  • Digital Contents and MOOCs — the stakeholders agreed on the need to create digital content and digitizing all (not just some) of the courses to be accessed online and remotely just in case they are pushed to conduct training digitally. Evidence from the conversations showed at the institutional level universities didn’t adopt any formal approach to address remote learning instead it was just lecturers and university staff being creative to digitize their contents and share with their students. This something that can be improved moving forward. One of the major reasons was the lack of clear instructions from the regulator on what should be the way forward on learning during the crisis.
  • Investment in Equipment — it was collectively agreed we can’t run away from investing in physical infrastructure especially on addressing the issue of computer-students ratio if we are to make this work. Which took us to the next part zooming-in human capital.
Stakeholders During The Workshop

Human Capital

The aspect of Human Capital was another important aspect of the conversation during the workshop. We assessed what were the lessons learned during the crisis, how did the human capital both staff and students behave during the crisis. Were they ready? How do we prepare them to be more resilient in future crises? One thing which was very clear they both struggled to cope with the crisis e.g some academic staff completely switched off their activities since they struggled to engage with their students through digital means. The team reflected on human capital by assessing four critical areas (pillars) that needed for staff and students to stay resilient; Attitude, Skills, Knowledge, and Training.

“The knowledge, skills, competencies and other attributes embodied in individuals or groups of individuals acquired during their life and used to produce goods, services or ideas in market circumstances”. OECD Definition of Human Capital

  • Attitude — the participants agreed moving forward there is a need for all stakeholders involved in the HEIs ecosystem to change their attitudes this includes; higher education management, heads of departments, supporting staff, and students. They need to be ready to embrace changes and transformations, they need to be more agile and flexible to adopt new means of training and learning. Moreover, lecturers need to change the mindset of approaching teaching from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach. Lecturers must assume the role of facilitators and coaches rather than knowledge disseminators. They need to empower students to learn how to learn.
  • Skills — the participants agreed on the need to invest in acquiring digital skills (enhancing digital literacy) for both students and staff. Digital technology should be viewed as a crosscutting issue instead of something that stands on its own. Some of the skills that were identified as critical skills for resilience include; creative thinking, learning skills, basic digital skills, teamwork, flexibility, and agility, etc.
  • Knowledge — stakeholders proposed the need to accumulate new knowledge that aligns with the fast pace of change in technology; both learners and teachers need to be updated with current and futuristic market hard skills and knowledge in accordance with the requirements of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Technology is changing vastly, and most of what human capital has accumulated over the years is knowledge of what has already passed. In order to stay relevant and be valuable players of futuristic higher education, new knowledge must be consumed periodically.
  • Training — there is a need for both students and lecturers to introduce themselves to different digital platforms and tools available for e-learning. Periodic training of all relevant stakeholders on the use of ICT so as to continue to address the issue of ICT phobia and influence adoption and use of technology in higher education. Training on change of attitudes, the future of the university, and the technology disruption is key to prepare the stakeholders for future crises.

Regulators

From the insights gathered during the workshop one of the key reasons why universities were not flexible to adopt (as institutions) new methods of remote teaching is because of the regulator. Most of them feared being penalized because of breaching the guidelines of the regulators. From the session the stakeholders when asked how should regulators act during the crisis, this was their response;

  • Become facilitators — regulators were expected to work with the universities to explore ways in which they can ensure the availability of teaching programs in a more structured and standardized manner. Lack of timely intervention from the regulator saw universities informally exploring different ways to ensure students continue to learn while at the same time being cautious not to break the law.
  • More agile — the regulators were expected to be more agile and create rooms for universities to officially try different approaches and document the learning from those approaches for future resilience. The regulators were expected to be more agile e.g to embrace new methods for student assessment, content delivery, etc.
  • Strategic partnerships — the regulators were expected to establish a strategic partnership with e-learning services providers e.g EduTech startups helping them to standardize their solutions and ensure what they offer is of the highest quality to consumers instead there were several e-learning applications that were not vetted adopted to offer contents to students at different levels.
  • Right attitude — creating a room for adapting and learning new approaches. There is a need to have regulators' sandboxes that allows testing new concepts and solutions that can be useful in overcoming the future crisis. Because of the uncertainties of different crisis, the regulators are expected to be more open to change and adopting new disruptive ideas.

Third-Party Stakeholders

The group also assessed the role played by third-party stakeholders during the crisis. The role played by EduTech startups and e-learning services providers. The EdTech Hub, a joint initiative of Dfid, the World Bank, and the Gates Foundation, is developing and sharing many reports and knowledge resources related to the use of tech during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Tanzania alone, a good number of EduTech startups strived and emerged during the COVID19. The most notable one being Smartclass, the COO was among the main contributors during the workshop. From the workshop participants felt there is a need to strategically find a way to engage with startup founders and innovators working to produce e-learning solutions for HEIs. They felt there is an existing gap between the two sides and local universities underestimate the role played by these actors in the ecosystem.

Conclusion

In order for African universities to fully prepare themselves for future crises, they need to transform the human capital and the infrastructure to respond to the needs of the markets and global dynamics as well as the advancement of technology through 4IR. They need to work closely with the regulators to identify what works so that can be improved and what doesn't hence to be dropped. They need to form strategic partnerships with different players in the ecosystem and be at the center of innovations offering systematic solutions to the most complex challenges facing the continent. They need to embrace the ecosystem approach and treat technology as a crosscutting issue.

This report has been prepared by;

  • Jumanne Mtambalike — Sahara Ventures
  • Dr. Mboni Kibelloh — Kampala International University (KIU)
  • Rebeka Idelya — Sahara Ventures

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Jumanne Rajabu Mtambalike

Jumanne Rajabu Mtambalike

1.4K Followers

Entrepreneur, TZ Patriot, Loves Tech, Founder saharaventures.com, Project Management Consulting firm, Co-Founded saharasparks.com and Sahara Accelerator.