Rural Varsities Get Better Connected in South Africa in R28 million funding deal

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

R28 million has been approved to partially fund internet access networks for rural higher education campuses. Higher Education South Africa and the Tertiary Education Network of South Africa (TENET) had requested to further extend points of presence on the existing network to strengthen universities research and teaching capabilities.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said funds had been approved because the capacity of universities to conduct research was of great importance as it would allow each university to have all its campuses connected at sufficiently high bandwidths.

"This enables shared production and distribution of teaching and learning materials, deployment of centralised administrative systems and processes for the efficient management of multi-campus institutions, access to high performance scientific computing facilities and other educational and research resources via the existing backbone and equitable internet access to other research and education networks globally," Nzimande said.

The first phase of the project, funded by Science and Technology Department for a three year period ending on 31 March 2010, connected seven major cities and towns to a high speed (10 gigabytes per second) network, providing 70 university and research campuses with high speed connection of at least one gigabyte per second to points of presence on the high speed backbone.

It also delivered optical fiber metropolitan access network in Johannesburg that interconnects seven different campuses of the University of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand, high speed connection from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) satellite application centre at Haretbeesthoek to the CSIR main campus and the Wits main campus and optical fiber access networks in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria.

However, Nzimande noted that due to network coverage limitations caused by a lack of adequate funding for the project, the full rollout of the project was compromised by not being extendable to the majority of South Africa's remote and rural campuses.

"By being able to provide additional funding toward the completion and extension of this network coverage, there will be enormous benefit to institutions that are not able to connect to the network or who are not able to connect at sufficiently high speed," Nzimande said.

The second phase of the project will see the backbone network being extended to points of presence in Grahamstown, Makhado, Middleburg Nelspruit, Pietermaritzburg, Polokwane, Potchefstroom, Vanderbijl Park and Witbank while TENET will secure at least 50 rural campuses to the presence points.