Higher education is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of education in Tanzania. Back in 1990 there were only 3,146 students attending the country’s two universities. Today there are 15,000 students enrolled at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) alone. New universities have opened. Existing universities have increased their intake of students and UDSM, once one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in East Africa, now offers ICT-enhanced courses and distance learning to enhance the quality and increase the capacity of its academic programmes.
By John Agunda (Dar es Salaam) and Reuben Kyama (Nairobi)
The University of Dar es Salaam, like all the eight public universities in Tanzania, has to cater for increasing student numbers. In some of universities, lack of funds meant that no new facilities have been constructed for decades. The problem is more acute on the main campuses. Student population at UDSM is today estimated at 15,000. Twenty years ago, it was barely 2,000.
This calls for innovation. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) offers an opportunity to circumvent the problem of congestion and to sustain academic programmes. eLearning enables institutions to cater for more students than they could actually accommodate with their limited infrastructure.
UDSM launched three Open Distance eLearning Centres (ODeL) in Arusha, Mwanza and Mbeya to enable off-campus students to take part in the university programmes online.
“The university has had to use ICT as alternative mode of delivery for academic programmes because of limited space.” said UDSM’s acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics), Prof. Florens Luoga, during the official opening of the University’s eLearning Centre in the Northern city of Arusha earlier this year.
“Using ICT-enabled delivery modes will increase the students’ enrolment and thus enable more qualified applicants to access higher education under distance learning.”
ICTs bring education to the learners
Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park, is rich in earnings from tourism and agriculture.
It was therefore an ideal place for the University of Dar es Salaam to base students without expecting them to move to a commercial city on the Indian Ocean where there is a lack of residential accommodation and a shortage of lecture rooms.
By locating the students in Arusha and running their courses with ICT, the university has increased admissions while avoiding congestion on the main campus.
The three ODeL centres in Arusha, Mwanza and Mbeya were operating on a pilot project basis until early this year.
According to university officials, the centres have already proved beneficial to distance learners. They offer Bachelor of Business Administration, Master of Engineering Management, Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Engineering. The MBA courses have attracted many learners from private and public companies and from non-governmental organisations.
All eLearning courses have been developed on the basis of the university’s academic curricula.
According to Prof Justinian Ikingura, the Dean of UDSM’s School of Informatics and Communication Technologies, the plan is to transform and adapt even more residential academic programmes to digital content that is “suitable for distant learners and self-learning on campus.”
The university has secured funds for the centres under the World Bank ‘Quick Win’ project and the recent landing of the SEACOM fibre optic cable is expected to improve connectivity. “It is our expectation that as more regions are connected, more students will be able to study in a cost effective way, once the national fibre optic backbone is completed,” said Ikingura.
A new source of income
UDSM and other traditional public institutions of higher learning are now competing against new innovative and well-funded private universities. There are now 22 private universities in Tanzania.
For UDSM, the ICT-enhanced distance learning programmes also offer an opportunity to attract fee-paying students. Most important in this target group are the employees looking for further education who can afford to pay for tuition.
The most popular academic programme at UDSM is the evening MBA course that attracts middle-level managers keen to win promotions and boost their competitiveness in the job market. Post-graduate diploma courses in accounting, marketing and finance at the Business School of the UDSM and other universities are also popular.
More information on www.udsm.ac.tz