Online Africa gets study boost

April 28, 2000

The headquarters of the African Virtual University will move from Washington to Nairobi this year to facilitate coordination of its different sites across sub-Saharan Africa.

George Eshiwani, AVU international chairman and vice-chancellor of Kenyatta University, said that the World Bank-supported initiative would offer degrees in computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering.

"The AVU has successfully completed the pilot phase in 16 English and 12 French-speaking countries in Africa," he said. The AVU's objective is to train people in science, business and engineering to support economic and social development in sub- Saharan Africa. Since July 1997, pre-university courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry and English have been offered at different sites through an interactive telecommunications network. The courses are transmitted by satellite from seven universities in the United States, Canada and Ireland to 28 universities in sub- Saharan Africa. African universities within the AVU network benefit from collaboration with universities in developed countries in areas such as research, teacher training, library resources and laboratory experience. Through interactive satellite and computer-based technologies, African universities can share the expertise of academic faculty. "The AVU is helping universities to overcome the barriers caused by declining budgets, too few faculty, outdated equipment and limited space that prevent access to higher education in sub-Saharan Africa," Professor Eshiwani said. Campus-based students have also taken advantage of the AVU's cheap courses in basic computer studies. At Kenyatta University, one of the first AVU sites, about 80 per cent of the student body is computer literate. The World Bank has provided $7 million (Pounds 4.4 million) to help launch BSc degrees in computer engineering, computer studies and electronic and communication engineering at Kenyatta.

"Credit courses in physics, mathematics and chemistry will also be offered," Professor Eshiwani said.

The AVU recently introduced digital library service on all sites, enabling lecturers and students to access journals, textbooks and other learning materials. Summer courses have also been organised in Nairobi, Lusaka, Addis Ababa, Accra, Kampala and Harare. Management seminars have been transmitted to French-speaking countries at sites in Benin, Niger, Mauritania and Senegal. The transmission of pre-university programmes in a variety of subjects and basic computer studies is scheduled to start at four sites in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking African countries that joined the AVU late last year.

Researchers at the University of Southampton are using European funding to develop ways of doubling bandwidth in next-generation global optical networks.

Beth Taylor, Bill Brocklesby and Johan Nilsson, at the Optoelectronics Research Centre are working on Project Lobster (Large Optical Bandwidth by Amplifier Systems Based on Tellurite Fibres Doped with Rare Earths). The work has received almost Pounds 500,000 funding from the European Union Information Societies Technology programme. The enabling technology for optical-fibre transmission systems is the erbium-doped silica fibre amplifier (EDFA), which was invented by scientists at the Optoelectronics Research Centre. The team hopes to achieve even greater bandwidth using alternative glass materials and new dopants to fabricate an optical amplifier device capable of amplifying light signals over a bandwidth more than twice that now covered by the EDFA. Details: Details: .

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