by Barbara Black
Concordia recently gave a dinner in Ottawa to launch a seminar on the
role of Canadian universities in human resources development in Southern
Provost and Vice-Rector Research Jack Lightstone was the host, and Education
Professor Ailie Cleghorn was the coordinator. Professor Balbir Sahni,
director of Concordias Centre for Academic Co-operation, also attended.
The featured speaker was Charles Bassett, senior vice-president of the
Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), who said that CIDA is
sharpening its priorities in the African subcontinent, and universities
will have more opportunities than ever to assist in improving education
and health, the delivery of inexpensive medicine and the promotion of
Almost every Canadian university is currently involved in the use
of technology-assisted learning, either for on-campus or for off-campus
applications, and this expertise, as well as the course content developed,
needs to be shared with partners in developing countries, he said.
Bassett said that CIDA is moving away from its traditional, project-by-project
approach to delivering Canadas aid program in favour of collaborating
with other donors. He suggested that universities may find new niches
in what he called sectoral partnerships.
He gave as an example the new African Virtual University, which has evolved
only over the past five years.
The idea stemmed from the World Bank, as a way of giving Africans
access to high-quality distance education, Bassett told his audience.
The AVU is now based in Kenya, and links 26 sites, mainly in public
universities in 15 sub-Saharan countries.
CIDA has been a major donor, helping to strengthen the Virtual University
itself. Quite independently, Canadian universitiesincluding Laval
and Carleton, I believeare also playing a role by providing services
that the AVU itself identifies as its priorities.
This innovative experiment multiplies opportunity, while minimizing
culture shock and brain drain its worth noting that a large
proportion of those taking pre-university courses are women, he
Bassett said that the AVU gives talented people access to computers and
thus to vast warehouses of knowledge. It also fosters regional interaction
and co-operation, as African universities and learning centres work together
toward common goals.
As well, because it offers courses that are up to date and relevant
to the economic and social needs of Africa, the AVU is having considerable
success in marketing its services to the private sector. This is an encouraging
sign of its own sustainability, and of the African partners ownership
of the Virtual University.
He concluded with an example of a different kind of partnership where
universities could be significant players: the Global Development Learning
This network was established by the World Bank and is still evolving.
It is designed to provide education and training to leaders from the public
and private sectors as well as civil society in developing countries and
countries in transition, using interactive videoconferencing and online
The network will only achieve its purpose to the extent that it
can offer courses and seminars on a range of topics crucial to development
and reform. The World Bank has invited Canadian content developers and
providers to become partners in this initiative, and to propose courses
or events that could be delivered in its host of Distance Education Centres
throughout the world.