African Virtual University
The African Virtual University (AVU) brings
world-class educational instruction to the most remote
and isolated communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
As a “university without walls,” the AVU
has helped more than 24,000 students and over 3,500
professionals join the information age.
Based on an interactive model that allows
African students to engage in real-time discussions
with professors both on the continent and abroad, the
AVU has proven to be sustainable and replicable.
From business management to engineering and
e-commerce, the AVU uses the Internet, satellite
technologies and ICTs to bridge the digital divide
between Africa and the rest of the world.
Since its inception in 1997, the AVU has been
an important institution for integrating Africa into
the global information society.
AVU began in 1997 as a pilot project funded by the
World Bank, and has since established itself as an
independent non-profit organization.
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the AVU demonstrates
the effectiveness of using the Internet and other ICTs
(i.e. e-mail, fax and phone) to help marginalized
peoples realize and utilize their true human
matching students’ needs to the content, and
stressing interactivity, the AVU ensures that each
learning centre offers contextually relevant education
and training programmes.
With the goal of enhancing the skills of students
and teachers throughout Africa, while cultivating the
entrepreneurial spirit of indigenous people, the AVU
is committed to providing access to quality education.
Through the learning centres, the AVU broadens
students’ horizons by allowing them to tap into the
global knowledge pool, specifically academic resources
from some of the world’s most respected educational
the objectives of the AVU are many, below is a brief
outline of the educational benefits it seeks to bring
to the continent:
the digital divide by improving connectivity to
more advanced education and research institutions,
while training Africans in IT related fields, inter
alia, engineering and computer science;
the “brain drain” throughout Africa by
offering an internationally accredited education,
thus creating an attractive and affordable
alternative to studying abroad;
improving the skills of Africans, the AVU hopes to
serve as a catalyst for increasing economic
investment on the continent;
the capacity of African tertiary education
institutions and faculty to encourage better
management and financial sustainability.
To achieve its vision of creating a new,
information age learning environment for Africans, the
AVU offers students and professionals a variety of
tertiary-level training options.
Working with over 25 partner institutions in 17
countries throughout Africa, the AVU brings renowned
professors from Europe, the United States and Canada
to participating students throughout the continent.
Additionally, the AVU provides participating
students and professionals with access to a wide array
of academic texts, journals and publications through
its digital library.
The AVU uses a combination
of satellite and Internet technologies to bring
advanced educational opportunities to African
only does the AVU give students access to some of the
best professors from around the world, but also
enables African teachers to collaborate with their
counterparts in more developed regions of the world.
By mainly using existing infrastructure (i.e.
local universities), the AVU learning centres offer a
cost effective way to bring quality educational
content to Africans.
Given the technological and infrastructure
constraints on the continent, satellite technology has
proven to be the most effective solution.
professors from around the world record their lectures
in a studio classroom, the videos are transmitted to
AVU’s central uplink facilities in Clarksburg,
Maryland in the United States.
From Clarksburg, the lectures are then
transmitted via satellites to learning centres across
with large screen projectors, televisions and computer
monitors, students and on-site moderators work through
the daily lectures.
Throughout the courses, which are comprised of
five to eight sessions lasting approximately one to
two hours, the students are able to interact with the
lecturer via e-mail, fax and phone.
For instance, students in Zimbabwe are able
query a professor in Canada, while other students in
Rwanda and Kenya offer comments.
On average, the classrooms at each AVU learning
centre are comprised of 25-30 students, at least one
on-site moderator to guide the discussion and at least
50 Internet-connected computers.
Although the majority of
learning centres are found in partner universities
throughout Africa, the AVU also encourages the
establishment of learning centres in areas underserved
by traditional educational institutions. Specifically,
the AVU would like to see the creation of privately
managed learning centres wherever there is a viable
Future of AVU
Although the AVU has
already integrated itself throughout Africa, AVU
organizers intend to expand into new countries,
specifically to those where there is strong demand for
Having gained independence from the World Bank,
the AVU hopes to work with local universities to
bolster the curriculum by offering degree and diploma
programmes to African students.
Additionally, the AVU intends to increase the
bandwidth available to its partner universities by
migrating to high-speed Internet connectivity, while
continually making ICT infrastructure improvements.
With greater bandwidth and faster connectivity,
the AVU hopes to expand the interactivity between
professors and students by facilitating two-way video
and audio streaming.
With a digital library of
over 1,000 full text journals and a variety of other
academic materials, more than 45,000 e-mail accounts
and a website that receives approximately one million
hits per month, the AVU has become an exemplary
example of educational training in Africa.
According to writer for Time Magazine, “This
is perhaps the most promising example of how
information technology can promote advancement.
The AVU links 25 African campuses to classrooms
and libraries worldwide.”
By working with world-renowned professors from
the developed and developing world, the AVU is
preparing a new generation of knowledge producers on a
continent that has historically been marginalized in
the global community.
By working with universities such as
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the
United States to provide students with practical and
timely IT skills, the era of marginalization might
soon be a thing of the past for many Africans.
AVU = Success
Despite being confined to a wheelchair,
Maryan Omar, a graduate of the Kenyatta-based
AVU, has become one of the most highly respected
and talented computer technicians in northeast
completed courses on application packages,
networking and computer maintenance and repair,
she is now a reliable and cost-effective source
for helping local communities
a variety of IT-relatedproblems. For instance, the head teacher at the
North Eastern Girls’ High School in Garissa,
Kenya lauded Maryan’s work, saying “this
will save us on cost, time and risk because
previously we had to take our computers to Thika,
about 470 kilometers from Garissa.” Maryan has earned distinction among
community members in Garissa as a computer
technician with “the best skills in the
For further information,
African Virtual University