The significant technological advances in sub-Saharan Africa enabled UNICAF and Unicaf University to enhance its online offering and to increase access to quality higher education. Unicaf University received approval by the Malawi government and has established a new campus in the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe.
The campus builds on the success of the UNICAF scholarship scheme and the UNICAF online delivery platform whereby courses of study are available through mobile technologies such as tablets, smart phones and laptops. The platform brings programmes of European, British and US Universities for which UNICAF is the online delivery provider to a global audience which focuses on sub-Saharan Africa through a scholarship scheme. The UNICAF Scholarship Programme brings the costs of higher education within reach of eligible candidates living in Africa. Already over 7000 students took advantage of the UNICAF Scholarships and UNICAF has already awarded in excess of $35 million in scholarships. The flexibility of online education also ensures that the majority of candidates with work and family commitments can still earn and support their families without abandoning the hope of gaining valuable qualifications.
The establishment of Unicaf University branch campuses and Learning Centres brings the benefits of personal contact and the state-of-the-art facilities including a digital library, and computer labs with high speed internet. Attendance at such centres is not mandatory especially for post graduate programmes as many of the programmes can be completed successfully fully online. The branch campuses provide the opportunity to expand the portfolio of available degrees and to offer degree programmes in need of tutorials, labs and invigilated exams.
The Vice Chancellor of the Unicaf University, Kevin Andrews, maintains that physical presence through the establishment of branch campuses is a vital key to ensuring that the educational experience of students is not an alienating and frustrating experience. “Previous experiments of online learning to date by many providers across the world has shown that the online experience can too often feel like studying in a sterile vacuum’ he states, ‘the UNICAF model mitigates this challenge through having a facility available where students can visit one of our centres for advice, help and reassurance, be it technical, pastoral or academic’. Local advisers based at the Unicaf University campuses work alongside their online colleagues, who are often based at the awarding body Universities. ‘This synergy produces a community of learning, opening up enormous potential for continuing professional development and capacity building locally’ Kevin Andrews said. Unicaf University, through establishing a network of campuses offering a full suite of modes of study from completely online, through supported open learning and blended, to fully campus based programmes, is set to bring flexible tertiary education solutions to the African HE sector. UNICAF is also working with several state institutions in order to advise and assist in making its platform available for state sector online expansion. ‘Many state authorities are struggling with inadequate physical infrastructure and a critical lack of places for study. UNICAF can offer online and hybrid solutions to this problem’ maintains Nicos Nicolaou, the CEO and Founder of UNICAF. Based in Europe, UNICAF HQ itself is located in a key hub location that bridges Europe, Asia and Africa.
Limited access to quality higher education in Africa, frustrations of African students with the level of fees charged by universities in the west, and the difficulties associated with securing a visa is what led Dr Nicolaou to create an opportunity for African students to earn an internationally recognised degree with affordable fees.
A veteran in the establishment of international institutions in different parts of the world, Dr Nicolaou has been successful in attracting venture capital to enable UNICAF to expand throughout Africa. He works closely with a number of universities in Europe, UK and the US which enables UNICAF to offer internationally recognised programmes to African students. ‘The current Malawi campus will expand in the form of a purpose built, ultra modern and fully resourced campus, equipped to accommodate advances in online and blended learning,’ said Dr Nicolaou. The Unicaf University Malawi campus has been approved and programmes accredited by the NCHE in Malawi and will offer as an awarding body in its own right, a portfolio of programmes from bachelor programmes to PhDs in the areas of business, finance, hospitality, IT and education. As a partner of UNICAF, international partnership courses offered online will also be available at the Unicaf University facility.
The venture is supported by CDC in the UK and University Ventures in the US. The network will provide valuable job and longer term career prospects for African communities and academics. The Rector of the first Unicaf University campus in Malawi, Professor Joseph Kuthemba, enthused that the new venture would bring much needed employment and money into Lilongwe said ‘No longer will our children have to leave us to travel to the United Kingdom, or to America to get a quality education – it will be available right here in the warm heart of Africa’.