Higher Education

Malala Yousafzai, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani student made headlines when she was injured by the Taliban for pursuing her studies. She has since grown increasingly vocal in her fight for female education in Pakistan, and universal access to learning for children worldwide.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International
Development, via Wikimedia Commons

This month, a young, clear voice reminds us of the global need for education. Recent years have brought incredible educational progress in many areas of the world. Teachers, supplies, and funding have been dedicated to building more schools. More children, women, and students in developing countries are provided with ways to learn. Not only are there more formal schools; recent years have also brought online universities and lectures, and, most recently, MOOCs. But access to learning remains far from universal.

Last week, Malala Yousafzai marked her 16th birthday with a powerful speech that addressed everyone: from her native Pakistanis to us at iversity in Germany. At the U.N.’s Youth Assembly, Malala, who was shot in the head on her way home from school by Taliban, demanded female education in Pakistan, and for all children worldwide. With 57 million children out of school in 2011, according to UNESCO and Save the Children data, 3 million gained educational access in the past three years. But the numbers of students out of class remain staggering, energizing iversity to produce MOOCs that reach the masses.

MOOCs are not an answer for every educational shortcoming. In developing countries and areas of conflict, many lack internet access, and women may be restricted from using computers at internet cafes. But MOOCs expand higher education, widening access and eliminating costs. They do not discriminate based on age, location, or gender, providing all with the opportunity to learn and to grow. Consider how MOOCs offer Pakistani girls access to top faculty and high-quality courses. Malala’s words push for universal education, a revolution that MOOCs ensure will include those in conflict zones.

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In the year 1776, on a warm but cloudy 4th of July, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence after a long struggle with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the then-ruling colonial power. The Committee of Five, consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson among others, had spent weeks drafting the declaration before presenting it to Congress and produced one of the most important documents in modern times.

(Photo: Martin Burns)

The signing of the declaration meant a decisive step towards a free nation and is still widely celebrated as Independence Day. It is the most important national holidays in the United States and stands as an important symbol for a nation that holds liberty and democracy as the most important values of all.

But a democracy can’t be built overnight: it still took the young nation more than 10 years until the Federal Government was formed and George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States in 1789. Naturally, things happen a lot faster now in the internet age than during the time of the Founding Fathers.

Just like the United States began their journey towards freedom and liberty back then, it is now higher education that is becoming more democratic. Massive Open Online Courses offer education for everybody: accessible from every place in the world, with modern didactics that meet individual student’s needs and without high entry requirements that are unsurmountable for many. The internet makes all of this possible. Within 8 years, the number of internet users in the world rose from roughly 1 billion to 2.8 billion, more than one third of the world’s population. With so many people connected to the internet, it is time to bring education into the digital age as well – because we think that MOOCs will bring about an unprecedent transformation of higher education and will without doubt change many people’s lives for the better. We look forward to your thoughts on the democratisation of higher education!

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For most visitors the African country of Tanzania means wildlife. Range Rovers, packed with tourists, guides and drivers, the latter often students from Dar es Salaam, gather in endless queues at the entrance of Ngorongoro with its rhinos, lions and elephants. Some tourists visit the historical Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar afterwards or combine dolphin watching with a taste of Mvita Ali’s incredible seafood buffet on a sandbank at Kizimkazi.Dar es Salaam: not enough software engineers

But virtually no one takes much time to voluntarily visit Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s busy trade hub at the coast with its 3 or maybe 4 million inhabitants. The port city is big, loud and not exactly the most beautiful harbor town at the Indian Ocean. While most tourists avoid the city, businessmen do not. A lot of European, American and especially Chinese companies are located in Dar es Salaam. Entrepreneurs from India and the Middle East add to the business community. Banking and financial services like micro-finance, mobile communication, logistics and other businesses thrive and grow comparably much faster than in Europe and even many parts of Asia.

 Dar es Salaam: not enough software engineers

The bottleneck for this growth is education. A lack of technically skilled workers leads to open positions across corporations in Tanzania. Without more graduates, degree holders and skilled specialists for IT, risk management or actuarial science, the economical capital of Tanzania can’t compete with the West, China or other African nations like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Dar es Salaam houses seven universities, among them the Open University of Tanzania and the International Medical and Technological University. The quality of these universities is under dispute though. Even the best one, the University of Dar es Salaam ranks among the worst universities worldwide in terms of research and scientific excellence. As well, these universities do not offer enough study courses in Information and communications technology (ICT) that are in high demand now. And higher education at a university is not available for everyone in a country that is as poor as Tanzania.

Internet connections in Tanzania are comparably good though, given that Dar es Salaam is a landing point of the submarine high-speed Seacom cable, connecting it directly with Mumbai and Marseille.

So, one plausible approach to tackle the issue of higher education is by MOOCs. That is why the World Bank sets up pilot projects for IT and ICT education in Sub-Sahara Africa as a part of their “New Economy Skills for Africa Program – ICT” or short: NESAP-ICT.

Seacom Cable supplies Tanzania with high speed internet (submarine)In Tanzania, the World Bank designated Dar es Salam as a knowledge hub for SMART skills – SMART being an abbreviation for Software, Mobile Applications, Research and Technology. The next step was to define the critical success factors for a MOOC about IT in Tanzania, like a real impact on employment chances or the need to get credits.

   MOOCs are possible: Seacom Cable

(here: undersea near Zanzibar) supplies Tanzania with high speed internet

The Washington-based World Bank choose an American company, Coursera, as its partner, not a MOOC-provider from the EMEA-region like iversity. Together with its partner, the World Bank will design the MOOC over the summer of 2013.  Starting MOOCs in East-Africa might have another preferable effect: stopping the brain-drain from Tanzanian students to Europe and America, where they often stay after graduation.

What the World Bank's EduTech blog article about MOOCs in Afrrica does not mention: the opportunity to take courses outside the “knowledge hub”, to take part in a MOOC anywhere in Tanzania. A huge advantage in a country where many of the most gifted young women and men work at least part-time or for some months outside the commercial capital in the tourism regions to make a living. Especially in a country like Tanzania it makes sense to reach out for prospective students where they are today, not where universities are located for historical reasons. Thus MOOCs can make a difference in developing Tanzania’s economic future.



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Since voting began on May 1, over 43,000 people registered to vote, with over 55,000 votes cast by May 15. Voters are allotted ten votes for their favorite courses, satisfying interests ranging from politics to computer science, from medicine to engineering. Online voting for fellowship winners continues through May 23, 12:00 pm CET.

Results will be considered by an independent jury, which will choose ten fellows in June after evaluating all course concept proposals at a meeting in Berlin. The jury is comprised of representatives of Stifterverband and iversity, as well as various experts. Members are drawn from academia, the policy realm, and business. The jury includes Prof. Dr. Sandra Hofhues, professor of education in Heidelberg, Prof. Dr. Jörn Loviscach, a lecturer with a profound practical experience in teaching online, and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kluge, former head of McKinsey Germany.

Fellows, the press, and voters will then be notified; results will be released to the public by mid-June. On June 20 and 21, fellows will gather in Berlin for a kick-off workshop, during which iversity will walk them through all facets of MOOC production. Hannes Kloepper, CMO of iversity

"The workshop by iversity will provide professors with every possible support to produce excellent MOOCs"

Hannes Klöpper, Co-Founder of iversity

As Markus Riecke, our CEO at iversity, says, “Together, we will refine course production concepts didactically and logistically. The workshop also serves as a bonding experience for fellows. We will present the iversity platform and its capabilities, engaging fellows in dialogue. We aim to not only coach fellows, but also learn about their diverse experiences, expectations, and ambitions, which will shape their MOOCs and, more broadly, higher education.”

After the workshop, fellows will begin producing their courses, while our experts at iversity document their creation. Hannes Klöpper suggests to, “Keep an eye out for exciting MOOC Production Fellowship news. And attend our public event on June 20 in Berlin, at the Stifterverband headquarters inside the the Allianz Stiftungsforum at the Pariser Platz. At this event we will explore the impact of MOOCs on higher education more generally. I look forward to our workshop in Berlin. iversity will provide professors with every possible support to produce excellent MOOCs.

Please note: once the winning MOOCs are determined by the jury, we will keep you updated on ongoing developments and enable you to pre-enroll for your favorite courses. News about the fellowship, grants, and upcoming MOOCs will be posted in blog updates.

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