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The Challenges Faced By Portuguese-speaking Universities in Africa

Thursday, May 17, 2012
A common challenge faced by members of the Association of Portuguese Language Universities (AULP)  and by other Higher Education Institutions (HEI) around the world, is providing access to up-to-date and relevant academic literature. In an age where more research is being published than ever before, we need to move with the times and recognize that we should change our approach to tertiary  education.

As a university, we have a duty to ensure that our students and staff are provided with the most relevant and recent scientific information, in order to teach, study and conduct research. Only 20 years ago, almost all literature was produced in hard copy, on the printed page. The purchase, delivery and constant renewal of books and journals is undisputedly expensive. The time lag between when something is printed and when it is available to students often compromises their education. In addition, conducting comprehensive research using paper systems is time-consuming and can prove to be a science in itself.
eLearning provides an opportunity to overcome some of these challenges and to level the global academic playing field. It presents us with a reality where a relatively young university in Northern Mozambique can offer students the same access to the most recent and relevant journal articles as a well-established institution in England with centuries of history in research.

Let me give an example. In Mozambique, One of Universidade Lúrio’s four faculties, the Faculty of Health Science, is a member of the HINARI Access to Research in Health Programme Network. This Internet based programme was developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) together with major publishers. The objective is to provide health science students, teachers and researchers in countries such as Mozambique, with the access to the literature they require and deserve.

The portal provides access to more than 8,500 journals and 7,000 e-books in 30 different languages, all of which can be downloaded for free. Before the dawn of e-learning and the Internet, such a resource could only be dreamed about. The Faculty of Health Science is home to the courses of medicine, dentistry, nutrition, pharmacy, nursing and optometry. The beauty of the HINARI portal is that it provides information across all disciplines in health science. A journal article, published in New York, can be downloaded on the same day that it is made available by a student from any one of these courses, without having to pay a fee. The Internet reduces the barriers of time and cost, which previously restricted our students and staff from progressing.

Although e-learning is undoubtedly revolutionizing the way in which we teach, learn and research, it does not come without its challenges. Universidade Lúrio and the other AULP members are only too aware of the importance of upgrading our information communication technology systems, to make the most of what this new age of Internet-based academia has to offer. This includes faster Internet connections, more computer facilities on campus and the professional expertise to make sure we are optimizing the use of our ICT systems.

Any developments in ICT within a university should be sustainable. We must not implement systems we cannot sustain. All too often, when people think of sustainability, they think only of the infrastructure. At UniLurio we also believe that expertise and knowledge must also be sustainable. Through a programme called Primeiro Contacto, which means First Contact, our undergraduate students work with children in the city of Nampula to improve their computer skills. ICT competency is improved at the grass roots level. We believe that no child should be prevented from pursuing further education or employment because of a lack of ICT skills. By starting the e-learning process early, by the time children are ready to enrol in higher education, either at our own institution or another, they will be in a position to take full advantage of the ICT systems, thus making the process sustainable. In the modern world, knowledge of computers is as essential as any other subject. The power of computing should not be restricted to a select few. Knowledge transfer of ICT skills through programmes such as Primeiro Contacto ensures future progress in this field.

I will finish with a quote from the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, who said with great profundity, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. Although e-learning was a concept yet to be developed in the time of Yeats, I believe it is inspired by the sentiment of his remark, by providing the matches to light that fire.

By: Jorge Ferrão and Stephen Thompson. Lurio University. Nampula. Mozambique.

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