EXCLUSIVE: Techloy Interviews Africa’s Mark Zuckerberg On His Soon To Be Launched Online University
There’s been quite a bit of buzz about Beni American University, Africa’s most recent online education startup, with its self-proclaimed mission of pioneering boundless learning.
During the week, I got the brain behind this project, Gossy Ukanwoke, to answer some questions about the purpose of this initiative, the issues surrounding it, and how they plan to make it work.
Hailed in various online circles as Africa’s Mark Zuckerberg, Gossy founded the Students Circle Network in 2010 – an educational social network for college and high school students where they get access to course resources, live teacher help, scholarship offers, study groups and many more students services for free.
Beni American University is his latest effort, find out more about it after right after the break.
Techloy: Alright Gossy, so tell us, what is Beni American University all about?
Ukanwoke: Beni American University is a forward looking African startup that is bringing quality education to every African youth, adult or teenager who wants to acquire a post secondary diploma or degree.
In 2011 alone, over 500,000 students in Nigeria who were willing and able to afford a post secondary education were deprived because of over crowded institutions and depreciating infrastructure.
We’ve seen a lot of success with Students Circle Network ( a free learning social network for students) project. Many students from the West African region now hope that they can gain certificates and diplomas by taking free courses on our network, and we decided to create Beni American University to fill this need.
We are therefore building a 21st Century university with strong emphasis on technology, web 2.0 and entrepreneurship – a university that is not limited by time, location, age, gender, race, color or belief.
Techloy: Do you not wonder if this idea hasn’t come before it’s time, in this region? Considering the presence of a number of factors ranging from the dearth of tech infrastructure and access to broadband to society’s “university degree” stereotype and innate suspicion of online initiatives. Will this initiative not require massive sensitisation/publicity/education not only online, but also offline?
Ukanwoke: I have heard about ideas that have come before their time, but I do not think this is one. The time is right, the need is there, and the enthusiasm in the market is high. We understand the issue of infrastructure and we are working with key partners to ensure we create a soft landing for our students as they start to enroll. On the issue of stereotypes, we are working on sensitization campaigns as well as taking steps in our academic process to address the stereotype.
Techloy: How exactly does this new form of learning work? What is your execution model?
Ukanwoke: We are running a Hybrid System - 70% Online, 30% offline. Our classes, Lectures, Instructionals, Quizzes, Tests, Assignments, and Projects will be done and assessed online via our learning platform that is accessible via the web and mobile. Our Midterm Examinations, Final Examinations and Admissions Interviews, when needed required, will be conducted offline and face to face respectively. We are also speaking with a few high schools across the country to be our test centers. Our students can use their facilities to take their final and midterm examinations.
Techloy: From the business angle, who’s backing this and what resources are they bringing to the table? And Financials? How much is all this costing? Are you expecting funding, and from what sources? Is BAU for profit? If not, how will this venture be sustainable and scalable going forward?
Ukanwoke: These details will be made public when we become a public company. At this point in time, BAU is doing non profit work but we hope to be profitable soon. We are working towards making this sustainable scalable – this is the reason why we are in business in the first place.
Techloy: Do you have technology partners?
Ukanwoke: We have ongoing discussions with a couple of global and local companies. We are in talks with Encipher, which are almost concluded.
Techloy: What about partners in the education sector?
Ukanwoke: We may not be able to discuss this fully until we conclude working modalities with these institutions. Securing institutional partnerships are a very cumbersome and lengthy process.
However locally, we are working with an international/Swedish NGO that has been educating Nigerians – women and children in the eastern Nigeria. They are providing the infrastructure for us to reach these people. Their students will be transferring to BAU.
Techloy: Government/public sector involvement?
Ukanwoke – We are hoping to reach the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports. We can have extensive discussions with them on our plans and how the government can aid us on this journey. It is important to note that we are not here to force change on the system — rather we want to introduce a quality alternative that will show that things can change.
Techloy: What kinds of certification will you be awarding, and how relevant are they/will they be in the Nigerian labour market?
Ukanwoke: Prior to Bachelor Degrees, we are starting off with Associate Degrees and other professional certifications. An associate degree is on the same level with the Higher National Diploma. Via our working plan with our educational partners, an A.D from BAU puts you on course for a BSc from those institutions. We are also providing professional certification that is globally recognized and accepted by Nigerian institutions.
Techloy: How much will this model of education cost participants, and how does it compare to the cost of current models?
Ukanwoke: Costs are minimal at best. We are less expensive compared to international alternatives. We are less expensive compared to local alternatives (Private Universities). Our quality is on par with some of the best institutions in the world and that is why they are supporting the vision we are carrying with this. Details of this in price and numbers will be found on our web pages when they become public.
Techloy: What are the entry requirements for intending students?
Ukanwoke: For a start, proficiency in English Language. Minimum of 6 credits in WASSCE or equivalent examinations. e.g NECO . These are the international standards when students from this region are applying to schools in Asia, Europe and United States. These details will be found on our web pages as soon as we launch.
Techloy: What are your projections as to the levels of adoption and your progress over the next few years?
Ukanwoke: We have projected to go full scale in the next 4-5 years. However before that, we will be running on about 20% – 30 % of our full capacity as an institution.
Techloy: Are there any other research based insights on the future of Nigerian and global education that you’d like to share at this time?
Ukanwoke: BAU is coming at the right time. Technology is gradually taking its place in the education sector in Nigeria. See what Google is doing. The scramble for Africa is currently on in this sector. Africa will mature in education in the next 10 – 15 years in the way it is currently in advanced economies like United States.
Degrees will have less value in a few years. It will be more of what you know and can do and the appropriate certifications to go with it. At this time, a Masters degree has same value as the current Bachelor’s degree.
More to come on this topic. If there are more questions you’d like to ask Gossy Ukanwoke about Beni American University, or insights you want to share about online education in Africa, by all means do so via the comments.