By Pauline Luba
Whereas the Covid-19 pandemic made technology a cornerstone in the operations of many institutions, for Uganda Christian University (UCU), the virus and education lockdown afforded an opportunity to ramp up its use. And there is no looking back.
Rebecca Kangabe and the team she leads at the UCU ICT Services Directorate have set up an ambitious 10-year plan that is expected to see the university become a data-driven institution using artificial intelligence to predict the necessary resources and drive decisions made by management.
The move by Kangabe and her team come on the backdrop of UCU ramping up online learning after the Covid pandemic affected physical operations. Kangabe says online learning operations at UCU moved from 30% to 80%. For this move, UCU warmed the hearts of many e-learning lovers, with Janet Kainembabazi Museveni, Uganda’s First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, acknowledging the university for the strides it had made in virtual infrastructure.
During a speech at the October 22, 2021, UCU graduation, Mrs. Museveni noted that the institution has a “robust online education program” and encouraged the facility to “share best practices with other institutions.”
UCU established a Learning Management System, known as the UCU eLearning platform in 2014, to prepare for an information technology-driven academic landscape. Assessed and approved by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), the regulators of higher education in Uganda, UCU eLearning platform’s capacity to host students connecting from all over the continent and beyond has since increased.
Students can attend classes online, access reading materials, do assignments and submit coursework/examinations. Likewise, lecturers can teach in real time, record lectures, upload course materials (video, audio and text) and administer examinations.
In 2021, UCU was named best exhibitor in a fair organized by NCHE, where institutions exhibited their e-learning services that reflected the programs taught and their capacity to admit and facilitate learning for students. They also displayed the technological innovations to overcome the challenges caused by Covid-19.
The university also partnered with the Research and Education Networks for Uganda, a not-for-profit National Research and Education Network, for free student access to the learning management system called Moodle. Lecturers also were trained in how to conduct online classes.
Kangabe, who has been the UIS director since July 2022, says UCU spent over sh1.6 billion (about $425,000) on new equipment such as servers, HVC systems for the servers, increased internet bandwidth and new software for student management. It is infrastructure like these that UIS wants to take advantage of to help improve technological operations at UCU. For instance, according to Kangabe, the directorate plans to improve its software that detects plagiarism, as well as the person-view software that assists in monitoring students during online tests and exams.
To support some of these initiatives, UCU emphasizes that every student should own a laptop. For those who are unable to make a one-off payment for the laptops, according to Vice Chancellor Aaron Mushengyezi, the university, in partnership with Equity Bank and tech firm CompConsult Technologies, has rolled out a laptop loan product. Through the partnership, “students are able to acquire a new laptop and pay for it over a period of 1-3 years,” Mushengyezi said during the July 28, 2023, graduation.
All students and staff of UCU have access to on-campus WiFi by logging into eduroam. Provided by RENU, eduroam is a Wi-Fi internet access roaming service for users in research, higher education and further education.
Despite technological advancement, the price of Uganda’s internet is still a hindrance to full adoption of online learning. In 2020, during the lockdown, many universities advised students who could not afford internet for online learning to take a dead year.
A 2019 report by Uganda’s telecom regulator Uganda Communications Commission says Uganda has the highest priced internet in East Africa. One needs sh9,819 ($2.65) to acquire one gigabyte of internet compared to sh8,863 ($2.3) in Kenya and sh8,017 ($2.1) in both Tanzania and Rwanda.