The COVID-19 pandemic unearthed the fault lines for what could be a generational catastrophe in education.
Even before the pandemic resulted in school closures affecting over 1.6 billion students in at least 161 countries, more than 250 million school-age children were out of school globally.
In much of the developing world, the gap between the levels of learning that education systems provide, and the needs of students, communities and countries, has been steadily growing over the years.
Barriers to education in developing countries include political and security instability, costs, health and nutrition, distance to school, insufficient budgetary allocations to education, and poor-quality environments, content and processes. And now, even more school-age individuals are at risk of falling behind or dropping out of school permanently as the pandemic persists. This would widen inequality across an already unequal region with stark wealth, gender and social disparities, as well as stymie opportunity, innovation, and economic growth prospects—education is the cornerstone of building human capital.
In a recent interview with AfricaLive.net Dr Nicos Nicolaou, the founder and CEO of Unicaf, a leading higher education online platform with students in 158 countries, set out his vision for a more robust education sector supported by digital infrastructure.
“In August last year, the UN Secretary-General stated that the education sector must invest in digital literacy and infrastructure and look to evolve towards learning how to learn, rejuvenate lifelong learning, and strengthen links between formal and non-formal education,” said Dr Nicolaou.
“He suggested the need to draw on flexible delivery methods, digital technologies and modernised curricula while ensuring sustained support for teachers and communities.”
Optimising Higher Education
A sustained increase in demand for access to education across Africa is unavoidable as populations grow, and given the role of education in modernisation and development, it is critical that governments increase higher education opportunities.
“Central to the discussion on sustainable development is the imperative of equality in higher education opportunities. Universities should offer holistic and transformational education with high-level quality content. Learning should be stimulating, engaging and learner-centric, leading to successful outcomes for the learners. Universities should inspire learners to be global citizens, assume active roles in the society they live in, and contribute to a more peaceful and sustainable world,” says Dr Nicolaou.
“Taking into consideration that tens of millions of additional students will become of university age in the next decade and the fact that there are no plans to build hundreds of new universities in the continent, the only solution is online learning,” he adds.
“The skilful use of modern technologies can enhance teaching and learning effectiveness and, thus, may substantially contribute towards the goals and objectives associated with sustainable, inclusive growth and development.”
“Distance education can eliminate current barriers to higher education in Africa, imposed by space and time, and can dramatically expand access to lifelong learning. Using flexible delivery models, students will no longer have to visit a physical location at specific times and days. A modern higher education institution, such as Unicaf University, no longer has to be at any specific physical location but, through the use of technology, can exist anywhere, anytime for students who wish to access study materials and complete a particular academic programme fully online.”
COVID-19 Has Changed Education Forever
There has been a high growth and adoption in education technology around the world in recent years, with edtech investments of up to USD 18.66 billion in 2019, and projections for the online education market expected to reach USD 350 billion by 2025. COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to the wider use of technology in delivering education.
“Because of COVID-19 online learning expanded dramatically. Almost all universities had to shift to remote learning to serve their students. In a very short time, everyone had to shift from face-to-face teaching to online, using a variety of technologies. The pandemic provided the catalyst needed for universities to move online and to use digital platforms for teaching and learning,” says Dr Nicolaou.
“What was considered to be the future has been accelerated to become the present; and my expectation is that this shift is here to stay, in one form or another. Various technologies, which are employed for online teaching, will reshape learning, both inside the classroom and beyond, well after the present pandemic subsides. In the same token, regulators have realised how crucial online education is and started encouraging universities to offer online programmes,” he adds.
The Future of Online Education in Africa
Africa accounts for about 20 per cent of the world’s youth population (aged 15-24), which is also the fastest growing in the world; however, there is a dearth of quality and affordable higher education. School enrolment rates at the tertiary level stand at 8 per cent, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (https://bit.ly/3eGhkYq), significantly below the global average of 32 per cent. Online education has the potential to increase access to higher education, making it cheaper, more flexible and more accessible to a wider range of students, and that is what Unicaf does.
“Founded in 2012 and with headquarters in Europe, Unicaf is a leading higher education online platform with students in 158 countries, and also a scholarship programme, facilitating higher education studies at affordable cost. The state-of-the-art Unicaf digital platform provides access to quality university degree programmes and professional courses from reputable partner institutions in the UK, the USA and Africa, and is addressing an underserved part of the higher education market through an affordable and flexible online learning model,” says Dr Nicolaou.
The platform’s current partners (https://bit.ly/3eH3Snk) include Liverpool John Moores University (UK), the University of East London (UK), the University of Suffolk (UK), the University of California, Riverside Extension (USA), and a multi-campus Unicaf University in Africa—offering high-quality Bachelor, Master’s and Doctoral degrees at a fraction of the cost.
“During the pandemic, Unicaf has been able to demonstrate its capabilities and increase its reach. Unicaf’s state-of-the-art digital platform has helped thousands of students to study online towards an internationally recognised degree without being affected by lockdowns and other restrictive measures. Within the last 12 months, we have received thousands of applications from students interested to study through online programmes. This is additional proof of Unicaf’s dominance in Africa’s online education market and the strengthening of its brand and reach,” says Dr Nicolaou.
Spotlight on Africa’s Largest Online University
Developments in technology and changes to the global approach to teaching—including collaborative and project-based learning, mobile-friendly learning platforms, and adaptive personal learning—are not yet used at scale in Africa. Unicaf is expanding across the continent through a growing network of university campuses and learning centres offering blended and open learning options. Unicaf currently has a physical presence in 12 African countries and has plans to expand to five additional countries within the next two years.
“Unicaf and Unicaf University’s (www.UnicafUniversity.com) strategy is to continue expanding throughout Africa by obtaining additional university licences in new countries and enriching the portfolio of programmes they are offering. Along with its partner universities, Unicaf has already served more than 40,000 students, by awarding them over USD 100 million worth of scholarships to study for internationally recognised degrees at a fraction of the cost, and to positively transform their lives,” says Dr Nicolaou.
“Our software development team will continue developing new state-of-the-art technologies, aiming towards enhancing the existing technologies we use in our digital platform. Such technologies help all our operations become more efficient and more scalable,” he adds.
Unicaf’s platform provides students with several key benefits, including:
- Flexible delivery allows students to accommodate work and family responsibilities. Everything students need to complete their studies is embedded into the platform, including a digital library, e-books and other learning resources.
- Qualifications: Students can earn internationally recognised degrees from Unicaf University, or its British partner universities, at a fraction of the cost. It is accredited by the British Accreditation Council for Independent Further and Higher Education in the UK as an Independent Higher Education Provider. Students are therefore given the opportunity to earn degrees with international recognition and obtain valuable skills and credentials to enrich their professional qualities and help them advance in their careers.
- Scholarships considerably reduce the cost of fees, and any remaining balance can be paid in easy monthly instalments.
- Employment: Most students declare that they were able to find a better job, get a promotion in their current job and/or earn more money as a result of their studies with Unicaf. Unicaf University programmes are developed in collaboration with employers to meet their specific needs.
Accelerating Online Teaching Through Partnerships Between Universities and EdTech Companies
Unicaf has been a pioneer in international partnerships to provide opportunities for students in Africa to earn internationally recognised degrees for almost a decade. Dr Nicolaou believes that the success of such partnerships depends on “a shared understanding of the market, goodwill, close collaboration and shared interests and goals.”
The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) this year will facilitate pan-African collaboration in higher education.
“With a population of 1.2 billion projected to reach 1.4 billion by 2040, Africa will become one of the biggest free trade areas with a very high commercial significance. This is good news for higher education too, and will heighten collaboration opportunities among universities in Africa in the areas of teaching, learning and research,” says Dr Nicolaou.
“For the African leaders of the future, Agenda 2063 sets out the need to refocus and reprioritise Africa’s agenda. Educating Africa’s future leaders is very important, as they are the ones who will strive to reposition Africa as a dominant global player. To support this goal, Unicaf continues to develop a suite of modern and affordable programmes, which offer specialist knowledge, underpinned by values-based ethical principles and practices.”
“Employability is vital for university students in Africa and is central to the mission and operation of Unicaf University.”
U.S. Facilitates $28M Scholarship For Nigerian Students in 1 year – U.S. Ambassador
The U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, says her country has facilitated 28 million dollars scholarships for Nigerian students to study in U.S institutions in the last one year.
Leonard said this on Thursday at the commemoration of the Student Visa Day organised by the U.S Mission in Abuja.
She said that the scholarship process was facilitated by the Education U.S.A programme of the embassy which was keen on enabling Nigerian students to pursue their academics and a future in the U.S.
“We are proud to prioritize Nigeria’s scholars in our consular process, as we recognise the value their success holds for the country’s future. With over 13,700 students fulfilling their American education dreams, the United States welcomes more Nigerian students enrolled than ever before. Americans view university study as an investment in a professional future.
“And I’m pleased that our Education USA team has helped Nigerian students apply for and receive more than 28 million dollars in scholarships and other educational funding to pursue their future. We know from us over 8,000 education and exchange programme alumni in Nigeria, the tremendous community impact that results when these ambitious students return to apply their knowledge and skills.
“Here at the U.S. Embassy, we are proud of the diversity in American educational institutions. There are more than 8,000 Students and Exchange Visitor Programme-certified educational institutions in the United States,” Leonard said.
The envoy also noted that beyond studying in the U.S, the programme provides the opportunity for Nigerian students to meet with U.S citizens and other nationals which will help in strengthening bilateral ties.
She said that with more than one million students from 220 countries and territories, the United States hosts more international students than any other country in the world.
She revealed that Nigeria sent more students to the United States than any other country in Africa.
“Students at our universities exchange ideas not only with American students but with students from across the globe. The educational enrichment that these types of discussions provide is priceless.
“As students, you will hear ideas and personal stories from your classmates and professors that will challenge your views. And also expand your understanding of the world; your ideas and stories will do the same for those around you.,” she said.
According to her, by studying together in the same schools, Nigerians, Americans, and students from all other nationalities will not only understand each other better but also see how many common challenges we all face.
“Students can work together to creatively solve problems and build long-term professional collaborations, increasing our countries’ economic ties”, Leonard added.
She, therefore, congratulated the beneficiaries, who were present as she urged them to stay focused on their studies in other to make a meaningful impact in the country when they return.
Ms Malate Atajiri, an Education USA Adviser said the opportunities fund programme seeks to identify and support high achieving low-income students who otherwise will not have been able to navigate or finance the process.
Atajiri said that the programme helps to support aspiring students towards securing full scholarships from top colleges in the U.S.
“The programme finances the process right from the testing stage, their application fees and even paying for their flight tickets after they have secured the funding. This year, the opportunity funds programme in Abuja supported 50 students to secure 4 million dollars in scholarships at some of the most competitive colleges and institutions in North America.
“Since the programme started, we have placed over 320 students with full funding in the U.S the programme also has a strong ethos of giving back. Although we have many students who have done and continue to do great things, Education USA is committed to helping young Nigerians who are interested in studying in the U.S.
“We help students to navigate that process and help them realize their dreams of a U.S education,” Atajiri said.
Atajiri added that the Education USA had six centers in Nigeria; Abuja, Lagos, Jos, Calabar and Ibadan where aspiring students could visit to learn more and get more information on the programmes and processes. (NAN)
Senate Approves Upgrade Of Ilaro Poly To Ogun State University of Technology
The Senate, on Tuesday, approved the upgrade of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Ogun State to a university of technology.
The development followed the third reading of a bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of the Federal University of Technology, Ilaro and for Other Matters Connected therewith.
The piece of legislation was sponsored by Senator Solomon Adeola, an All Progressives Congress senator representing Lagos West Senatorial District.
The bill was earlier sponsored by Adeola in the 8th Senate but could not be passed before the expiration of the 8th Senate and it was again presented again in the 9th Senate for consideration and passage.
The Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND, Senator Sadiq Umar Sulaiman, presented the report on behalf of the chairman of the committee Senator Ahmad Babba-Kaita.
The report stated that there was a need to expand opportunities for advanced education in technology.
He added that the upgrade of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro to a university of technology will be of tremendous benefits for host communities, provide employment as well as educational development to quickly increase avenue for degree awards in technological fields for teeming Nigerian youths.
The bill which was passed after thorough consideration of its clauses by the Senate in plenary is now set for concurrence of the House of Representatives and eventual assent by the President.
The President of the Senate Ahmad Lawan congratulated Adeola for the passage of the bill that he had pursued since the 8th Senate.
Adeola, who was elated at the passage of the bill, stated that the passage marks a fulfillment of one of his legislative agendas in relation to the institutional development of education at all levels.
He added that the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro already has enough facilities for the upgrade to take off immediately without much expenditure as would have been required for a brand-new university.
Senate Passes Bill To End HND/BSc Discrimination
The Senate, on Wednesday, read for the third time and passed a Bill that seeks to end discrimination between First Degrees graduates from universities and Higher National Diploma (HND) holders from polytechnics in the country.
The passage of the Bill followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters; and Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND, during plenary.
Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, in his report, said: “The enactment of the bill to abolish and prohibit discrimination between First Degrees and Higher National Diploma for the purpose of employment in Nigeria will no doubt free holders of HND from stagnation and ensure balanced treatment with their counterparts from other higher tertiary institutions in Nigeria.”
He added that the abolishment of the existing dichotomy between HND holders and graduates of Universities would meet the huge manpower needs of Nigerians, ensure social justice and enhanced corporate governance as well encourage patriotic contributions amongst HND employees in both public and private sectors.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in his contribution, said the passage of the Bill would serve as motivation for polytechnic graduates.
He called on the public and private sectors to ensure the implementation of the Bill’s provisions as soon as it is signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“This particular issue has been in the front burner for a long time. I recall that in the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007, this was one bill that was so important, and is one way of encouraging our Polytechnic graduates.
“That should not take away from the kind of training they receive, but, in fact, it is supposed to be a motivation for our polytechnic graduates.
“I pray that the Federal Government and all those government agencies and the private sector would start to implement this by the time the President assents to this Bill.”
The Bill which was sponsored by Senator Patrick Ayo Akinyelure seeks to resolve the lingering controversy, discrimination and wage and entry level disparity against HND holder in the public and private sectors of the economy.
It also seeks to promote Nigeria’s technological advancement by encouraging many qualified candidates to pursue polytechnic and technological studies.
It could be recalled that in his lead debate during the second reading of the Bill, Senator Akinyelure had insisted that discrimination against HND holders could ruin the nation’s core policy thrust of evolving a technological and scientifically based society.
Findings, he said, had proved that some polytechnic graduates were in some cases better on the field than their university counterparts.
“A government employment policy that places degree holders ahead of HND holders without recourse to skill and ability of the HND holder thereof does more harm than good to the nation’s development plans,” Akinyelure had said.
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