"As universities try to balance rising demand for tertiary education with
expansion challenges, education experts say Web-based e-learning models
will increasingly play a pivotal role in SA and across the continent." reports
This week, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) announced plans to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) in a partnership with edX – a US-based non-profit online learning destination founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.
MOOCs aim to deliver learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with unlimited participation and no costs incurred for those who sign up. Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, deputy vice-chancellor for research and post-graduate affairs at Wits, says course content is still being finalised, but people who register for courses can become certified in what they study, if they choose to be assessed.
Vilakazi says course content will undergo verification by Wits and edX "to make sure you don't get a certificate that is worthless". Students will be able to enrol for the MOOCs on edX towards the end of next year, according to Wits.
In a brief statement, the university says the number of students pursuing higher education in Africa has tripled between 1991 and 2006, yet public investment in education has remained the same.
Wits says the increased demand, along with the growing value of university degrees on the continent, means the current high levels of educational expansion may still not be enough – a gap the new partnership aims to bridge. Vilakazi adds the main idea is to "democratise education" and have a positive effect on job prospects for people.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) also aims to introduce MOOCs from early next year, in partnership with British provider FutureLearn.
Deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Sandra Klopper, says, in developing UCT's MOOC strategy, "we have been mindful of the scarcity of contributing universities from the global south, and from Africa in particular.
"We are aware of the challenges many potential learners face with regards to technology and access. In response, we intend to place special emphasis on accessibility for audiences that are limited by bandwidth provision and device capacities."