Bungling: 750 students to suffer

Documents show that the World Bank and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology the major financiers of the RMIT-AVU computer science programme, in July cut off the sponsorship to the programme, which has 750 students in nine African countries.

In Namibia, the computer programme ‘ which is co-ordinated from Kenya, where AVU is based ‘ has 17 students.

The programme delivery involves three parties, AVU, RMIT and partner universities from countries such as Namibia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda, among other countries.

Documents in our possession show that the programme is a World Bank project aimed at facilitating the delivery of high quality programmes from world-class universities such as RMIT in Australia to African universities via the Internet with the AVU co-ordinating the learning process.

The programme is designed to equip African students with the latest information and communication technology skills to help bridge the digital divide between the continent and the developed economies.

A rift emerged in July this year when the AVU failed to remit fees paid by students to external partner universities such as RMIT, which owns the programme.

RMIT, in turn, withheld the moderation of examinations and intellectual property rights, leaving the students in limbo. “This programme is externally funded with AVU being obliged to pay for delivery of services as part of legal agreements between the two organisations (but) unfortunately AVU has not paid RMIT for delivery activities reaching back over more than one year.

“As a result, there is a substantial debt now owed to RMIT by the AVU and AVU has not provided any reliable assurances that this debt will be paid.

“Furthermore, the AVU has indicated to us that they do not have sufficient funds to pay the delivery costs for the remainder of 2006,” reads part of a letter written by RMIT pro-vice chancellor Madeleine Reeve in July.

“As far as post-2006 delivery is concerned, RMIT has now been informed by the AVU that the planned RMIT delivery in 2007 and 2008 will not proceed, despite earlier written assurances from AVU that this delivery would proceed,” Reeve said.

The 750 students pay a subsidised annual fee of US$1 500.

AVU rector Peter Kuzvinetsa Dzvimbo said the AVU acknowledges the debt to RMIT but could not explain how it accrued since the programme was subsidised by the World Bank.

Dzvimbo, a Zimbabwean-born former World Bank senior education specialist, said AVU had drafted a debt resettlement plan to RMIT, but refused to disclose how the institution would raise money without throwing the burden to students.

“I confirm that the RMIT has stopped its programme delivery activities to students in Africa because of certain contractual issues between AVU and RMIT International,” Dzvimbo wrote in a circular to students.

It has, however, emerged that the debt dispute between AVU and RMIT has resulted in some partner institutions pulling out of the programme.

Sources in Namibia said the University of Namibia (UNAM) and other unnamed countries have pulled out of the programme as from next year.

The Southern Times has it on good authority that Namibia and other African universities are withdrawing from the programme as from 2007, citing high fees following the World Bank pull-out.

“The issue was temporarily resolved and students are going to write their exams in December, a month later but for the last time. UNAM is no longer participating in the programme,” said a senior education official.

“This is a World Bank-initiated programme and the idea is very noble but now that the major donor (World Bank) has pulled out, not many African students can afford the fees. They used to (afford the fees) because they were subsidised, but not anymore,” said the official.

The official added that when the World Bank cut off the funding without prior notice, students were stranded for a month.

“As for UNAM, it’s no longer part of the programme. As soon as this last batch of students write the exams, that is the end of it and we are told other partner universities are taking the same route,” the official said.

“It is a good programme though but without the subsidy, AVU cannot fund it,” the official added.

October 2006
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