Interviewed by Dibussi Tande
"A plethora of ICT experts and management scholars and practitioners have suggested the need for human capacity development in the ICT domain in developing economies. Empowering these economies to develop the right solutions with contextual and cultural relevance requires institutions to educate and train graduates to meet their contemporary needs." Prof. Mbarika
In most developing countries, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) programs and policies almost always center around issues of accessibility, availability and affordability, with not as much attention being paid to human capacity development, which is a critical, if not indispensable, element in harnessing ICTs for development purposes. Without qualified and well trained ICT experts, it is virtually impossible for these countries to develop viable knowledge economies. It is in a bid to address this issue that a group of visionaries decided to establish The ICT University (ICT-U) is based in Louisiana, USA, which offers ICT-based degree programs that target Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.
To find out more about this exciting initiative, Scribbles from the Den talked to Cameroon-born Professor Victor W. Mbarika, the pioneer President of ICT-U, who is also the founding and executive director of Southern University's International Center for Information Technology and Development in Louisiana, USA, and the Editor-in-Chief of The African Journal of Information Systems. Excerpts:
Question: What is exactly is the ICT University?
Answer: The ICT University is a US-Based graduate level educational institution and a consortium of world renowned ICT scholars from North and South America, Africa, The Caribbean, Australia, and Europe. The goal is develop ICT human capacity specifically targeting nations with the designation of developing economies. We tailor ALL our programs to address technology, business and policy challenges are common in such developing economies.
What are the ICT-U’s main faculties/departments, and what degrees does it offer?
The ICT University develops scholars in the domains of ICTs at the MPhil and Ph.D. levels, with a social science focus, an MBA program with multiple concentrations and specializations that fit the context of developing nations of Africa, Latin and South America, The Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. ICT-U also offers short certificate programs in E-Health/Telemedicine, E-Learning and Executive Technology Leadership.
What motivated the creation of this university?
A plethora of information and communications technology (ICT) experts and management scholars and practitioners have suggested the need for human capacity development in the ICT domain in developing economies. Empowering these economies to develop the right solutions with contextual and cultural relevance requires institutions to educate and train graduates to meet their contemporary needs. Most developing economies face challenges in establishing and sustaining ICT degree programs, namely, the acute lack of qualified faculty and the exodus of the few graduating talents to the West. Further, some existing degree programs may be considered to be more of an adoption rather than the adaption of content from universities in developed countries, usually North America and Europe. In essence, these economies need to move from being primarily consumers of the information age to becoming producers of ICT and management knowledge, products and services.
The ICT University (ICT-U) is a plausible solution to the aforementioned challenges. The distinctive characteristic of ICT-U is that it goes beyond conventional modes of graduate education to provide a creative and challenging educational platform on which graduate scholars can develop their potential. Scholars are required to conduct research, publish and present their research in academic and practitioner conferences and seminars. In the doctoral program, for example, students are required to develop a thesis/dissertation and to publish academic journal and conference papers before completion of the program. Scholars are individually mentored by international reputed faculty to ensure successful program completion.
Can you tell us a little about the quality and caliber of the university’s faculty?
The ICT University is a hybrid of online and onsite certification and graduate degree programs in ICT and business administration. Faculty members represent a global consortium of Universities and Colleges that use ICT and business administration curricula and pedagogies which are internationally focused and locally relevant to developing economies. Most of these faculty members are world-renowned expects in their specific domains and have published prolifically. Besides being very accomplished, these faculty members have very strong records of mentoring students to become very productive in terms of developing research and contributing to the global knowledge base in ICTs. They spend ample time mentoring the students one-on-one. Hence, no student at The ICT University will ever be an island. There are ICT researchers and experts to hold their hands along the way and to ensure they succeed as scholars relevant to a worldwide context, but specifically relevant in the context of the developing economies in which they live.
The ICT-U faculty consists of "Faculty Affiliates" and "Industry Affiliates". Can you please explain what these are, and also tell us who can apply for these positions?"
At ICT-U, we have faculty affiliates and industry affiliates. The faculty affiliates coordinate the delivery of courses. They are typically very well published in the area(s) they teach. The industry affiliates are accomplished practitioners in the ICT area that call in to give talks on current ICT innovations in the industry. These experts come from very respected companies such as IBM and Intel, as well as many governmental and international development organizations. This mix of academics and real world presentation of courses is extremely important as we prepare students and researchers to be ready for the job market as they graduate.
Initiating such a massive undertaking is definitely very complex and expensive. Has ICT-U partnered with other universities, corporations, governments and international organizations?
Absolutely yes. We have partner Universities and research centers all over the world that we work with. These partnerships continue to grow fast as we expand.
How different is ICT-U different from the African Virtual University which also leverages online instruction and face-to-face?
The African Virtual University is a great initiative and has done much for Africa. I believe it remains very relevant in what it does. The ICT University compliments what AVU is doing. We focus mainly on graduate level education in the ICT domain (MPhil, MBA and Ph.D.). Furthermore, we are not only focused on a specific region. We work with all developing nations of South America, S.E. Asia, Africa and The Caribbean. We also offer programs that traditional institutions do not typically offer such short term executive ICT training for top managers as well as telemedicine certification for those interested in the IT and healthcare domain.
ICT-U offers courses in a hybrid online/on-site environment. Given the abysmal state of IT infrastructure in most developing nations, particularly Africa, how will the online courses be delivered to regions with poor ICT infrastructure?
We are implementing technologies that require very low bandwidth to have access. It is a challenge but anyone signing on to be a student is required to have some kind of connection that can be easily obtained from current telecommunications companies at rates of $50 or less per month. We also use a lot of VOIP technologies for voice communications that works just fine with most developing countries we work with.
Will face-to-face instruction take place on an ICT-U campus, or on the campuses of partner institutions?
Both. All students will be required to meet for one month every year at a chosen developing nation. The cost for this will be covered by The ICT University. The students also have an option to spend one month every year at our affiliate center in US, The International Center for Information Technology and Development. This center is based at Southern University in Louisiana, USA. The cost for this is covered by the student and it is optional.
Is the university aimed solely at prospective students who reside in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and South East Asia, or is it also open to individuals from these regions who reside elsewhere?
Yes, it is mainly aimed at students from those developing nations. We will consider students from the developed nations but that is not our focus. Scholarships are only available to students from developing nations and are based on merit. Two scholarships are offered per year.
Today, practically everyone, from educators to journalists, community development advocates, etc, need to have a solid mastery of ICTs in order to excel in their respective fields. Has ICT-U taken this reality into account by opening up its programs to prospective students with social science backgrounds or is admission open only to those with (computer) Science and technology backgrounds?
Great question. We are totally open to admitting even non-technical students. These students, however, take a little longer to complete their programs as they are required to take some foundation courses before getting into the main courses. This diversity is extremely important to The ICT University that seeks to have a healthy sharing of ideas from such diverse perspectives.
When will ICT-U be officially launched?
Admissions have been going on. However, there is an open house at the forthcoming International conference on ICTs for Africa (ICT4Africa 2010) scheduled for Yaoundé, Cameroon, March 25-28, 2010. Our close partners from the US and other parts of the world will be in attendance to respond to any questions attendees may have about the University.
What are your expectations with regards to the ICT-U’s potential impact on the ICT landscape in its target regions?
This will be the prime program to train students, managers, policy maker and entrepreneurs on ICT issues specifically related to their country’s contexts. Specifically, The ICT University ICT-U will fulfil its mission and realize its aspirations in these ways:
- develop productive and relevant Masters and Doctoral level scholars to utilize their research to help solve the substantial problems in their countries;
- encourage these scholars to disseminate their research results and findings in journals, conferences, presentations, books, and direct interventions to relevant situations;
- present opportunities for executives and leaders in developing nations to develop their knowledge discovery and utilization skills through our educational programs and services;
- offer all our courses in a hybrid (online and onsite) environment with very regular interactions between students and faculty;
- build and strengthen meaningful partnerships with our faculty and external partners in Africa, Latin and South America, The Caribbean, and Southeast Asia; and
- secure and steward an ever increasing supply of useful financial and human resources as we conduct qualitative and quantitative research and translate it into direct interventions and practical applications.
Finally, how do prospective students apply to The ICT University?
They should visit the ICT-U website, follow instructions in detail that pertain to their program of interest, and send their complete application package to us within the specified deadlines.
Thank you very much Professor Mbarika!