The University of Namibia (UNAM) has launched a new wireless network giving students with compliant laptops unlimited Internet access around campus. Initially available to students at the main Windhoek campus from February 20th, 2012, plans are in place to extend the wireless capability to all ten of the university’s campuses nationwide.
Speaking to eLearning Africa, Nabot Uushona, the Director of UNAM’s Computer Centre said that the launch of the service has been timed for the start of the new semester, though it may be April or May before work at the remaining nine campuses and eight hostels is completed.
With a 13000-strong student body, 288 lecturers and 36 professors, UNAM’s offering of such a perk on a large scale seems like a heavy financial commitment; however, Maggy Beukes-Amiss, a lecturer in the Department of Information and Communication Studies at UNAM says that a manageable middle ground has been found: “The cost of the infrastructure has been covered by the university, while students are charged an annual fee of N$300 (ca. €30) at registration to cover the connectivity costs in full.”
Although the long-term impact that the wireless network will have on the university’s learning culture is yet to be seen, Uushona says that from the trials they conducted at one campus last year, they saw that being able to access information readily helped students to be better prepared for classes and to work on their assignments with ease whether lounging around in the cafeteria, library, hostels, or indeed, anywhere on campus.
Whilst most of the students at the Windhoek campus own laptops and are able to take immediate advantage of the new facility, this is not the case at some of the far-flung campuses of UNAM, and thus the availability of free wireless Internet access has another consequence. Uushona says, “Students see the need to acquire laptops by themselves to benefit fully from this initiative. However, formal negotiations are also under way between UNAM and various stakeholders to be able to provide laptops to students as well, again using a cost-effective means.” Beukes-Amiss adds that though the university has long provided computer facilities for students, this new dimension will enforce computer literacy by boosting uptake of ICT skills amongst the more hesitant or uninitiated students.