Despite the unprecedented challenges for our society and the economy globally caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICAF was able to produce excellent results that are a testament to the underlying strength of UNICAF’s delivery model and innovative programmes. Through the Unicaf Scholarship Programme, thousands of students were able to study towards internationally recognised degrees at a fraction of the cost. Read how a pioneer educational organisation has been changing the online higher education industry with its innovative delivery model and its state-of-the-art digital platform.
A Brief History and Milestones
Unicaf was founded in 2012, by Dr Nicos Nicolaou, CEO of Unicaf, aiming to increase access to quality higher education in Africa accessible through a generous scholarship programme. Dr Nicos Nicolaou envisioned a global educational organisation that would meet the needs of the fast-growing population and workforce in Africa. (Africa has the fastest-growing population and workforce, WWPP, UN 2019).
Unicaf (Unicaf.org), with its headquarters in Europe, expanded throughout Africa through a growing network of university campuses and learning centres through which it can service blended and open learning options. Unicaf currently has a physical presence in 12 African countries and has plans to expand to five additional countries within the next two years. The rapid expansion of its operations is attributed to the popularity of its unique, affordable, and innovative approach to tertiary education.
Unicaf’s ambitious but well-informed initiative received tremendous publicity from international publications and other media and acknowledgement by local and international newsagents and other official institutions worldwide – becoming a household name.
Unicaf and its partner universities already serviced more than 40,000 students and offered more than $100 million worth of scholarships to enable them to study for internationally recognised degrees at a fraction of the cost and to transform their lives positively.
The Market in Africa
According to the UNDP Human Development report that is published annually, Africa has the fastest-growing middle class. Education is undoubtedly the most important factor in achieving a smooth economic transition in the targeted regions. The latest “Africa E-Learning Market: Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2019-2024” report (IMARC Group, 2019) indicates that e-learning has escalated in Africa and will reach a value of US$ 1,813 Million by 2024. As researchers suggest, the population boom has created rapid urbanisation in major African countries such as Lagos, Cairo, Nairobi and Johannesburg. As the citizens experience drastic economic prosperity, they will turn towards their local markets for work and education. Additionally, international investments and new job opportunities lead students to seek qualifications and certified diplomas within their domestic market.
Additionally, the African Higher Education Summit in 2015, reported staggering figures in university enrolment over the past 15 years. Most precisely, university enrolment has increased more than 170%; however, there are currently only 1,225 officially recognised universities in Africa. Subsequently, local universities can accommodate only a small fraction of the aspiring students.
The need for infrastructure investment was immediate. On this account, Unicaf established modern campuses in Africa and encouraged online learning to overcome common issues that arise with traditional on-campus studies.
Partners and Unicaf Campuses
Unicaf has partnered with well-renowned universities to deliver online university degrees designed to address employability needs. The internationally recognised Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral programmes have significantly enriched research and knowledge in numerous underdeveloped communities. Moreover, these university alliances raised awareness of many individuals’ value, capabilities, and skills in neglected areas. Unicaf proudly influenced top-tier western universities to be present in Africa and strategically improve students’ social-economic conditions. The organisation enhanced its business growth by building partnerships with the University of East London (UK), University of Suffolk (UK), Liverpool John Moores University (UK), and the University of California, Riverside Extension (USA). Besides online degrees, students can also attend university campuses or even opt for blended learning at the multi-campus Unicaf University (Africa).
Undeniably, Unicaf took it a step further by establishing multi-functional campuses and learning centres in Africa. Unicaf University is committed to academic integrity and continuous student support services. The company also urged to reinforce the local workforce with job openings and ongoing professional development training. Unicaf, intentionally, aimed towards “hard to reach” areas boosting local teaching and learning methods. Now more than ever, Unicaf believes it must redefine higher education to address the critical needs of society.
An innovative company
Higher Education institutions should strive to equip learners with the necessary skills, knowledge and principles which are needed to contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable future. Unicaf, right from the beginning, stood out among other organisations by designing an innovative, flexible delivery model.
The advances in information and communication technology provide new opportunities to offer quality education in an online format. This will eliminate the need to construct hundreds of physical campuses to accommodate the millions of students in need of higher education. The skilful use of such technologies will enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning and, which will allow thousands of students to study towards internationally recognised degrees.
Universities should offer holistic and transformational education with high-level quality content. Learning should be stimulating, engaging and learner-centric leading to successful outcomes for the learners.
Several new technologies have been developed which can help universities revolutionise the traditional teaching and learning process. More digital platforms incorporate a range of technologies that can enhance the learning experience of learners.
Distance education can eliminate current barriers to higher education in Africa imposed by space and time and can dramatically expand access to lifelong learning. Using flexible delivery models, students no longer have to visit a physical location at specific times and days. A modern higher education institution such as Unicaf University no longer has to be at any specific physical location. Using technology, a modern higher education institution can exist anywhere anytime for the student to access the material and complete a particular programme fully online.
Because of COVID-19 online learning has expanded dramatically. Almost all universities had to shift to remote learning to serve their students. In a very short time, everyone had to shift from face-to-face teaching to online using a variety of technologies. The pandemic provided the catalyst needed for Universities to move online and to use digital platforms for teaching.
What was considered the future has been accelerated to the present and it is expected that this shift is here to stay in one form or another. Various technologies available for online teaching will reshape learning both in the classroom and out, well beyond the pandemic.
In the same token, regulators realised how important online education is and started encouraging universities to offer online programmes.
Unicaf was able to demonstrate through the pandemic its capabilities and to increase its reach. Unicaf’s state-of-the-art digital platform helped thousands of students study online towards an internationally recognised degree during the pandemic without visiting a physical site.
Online learning benefits are greater than we can imagine. Through Unicaf’s innovative and contemporary Virtual Learning Environment, students can experience learning from the comfort of their homes. Unicaf scholars have embraced e-learning as it has significantly helped them managed their own time juggling work and studies and family. The platform that facilitates online learning was built methodically and tested in many countries worldwide and continues to be upgraded by a team of professional IT engineers.
Unicaf uses state-of-the-art software such as machine learning predictive analytics which involves looking at past and current student data to predict future student performance. This is important because it can help students stay on track to graduate and alert them when they’re falling behind.
The online learning model brought changes in the previously out-of-reach tuition fees. Students can earn a degree with international recognition for a fraction of the cost. Transportation, books and study material, accommodation, food, visa fees are the common expenses associated with traditional learning that students wish to avoid or reduce. As online learning was relatively new in Africa, Unicaf had to prove that it is eco-friendly, affordable, flexible, convenient and maximises learners’ efficiency.
Unicaf’s vision is to continue growing while caring for its scholars. The company formulated a number of partnerships with well-known organisations to offer additional services and solutions to its students. More specifically, in 2020, Unicaf partnered with MTN, the largest Telecommunication provider in Africa, offering to every new student who receives a scholarship and registers for an online degree programme with a partner university free internet data upon registration. Another distinguished collaboration is the one with Mastercard. Mastercard premium cardholders are given a 75% scholarship to study towards r internationally recognised degree programmes offered through Unicaf. Cardholders in 12 African countries can choose from a wide range of high-quality degrees from the partner universities and split the remaining 25% of the tuition fees into flexible instalments.
Furthermore, Unicaf sought to team up with Nigeria’s leading recruitment platform, Jobberman, to provide scholarship opportunities to eligible users of the platform. This partnership helped thousands of job seekers who advanced in their careers and earned a degree that reflects the needs of their local market. Other job advertising platforms, like BrigtherMonday in Kenya and BrighterMonday in Uganda which is under the banner of ROAM Africa’s largest marketplaces, also partnered with Unicaf to offer scholarships for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral programmes.