In partnership with the World Bank's private sector lending arm, a Nigerian based firm is deploying ICT to improve higher education on the continent.

International Finance Corporation (IFC) working with different financial intermediaries to reach smaller institutions and supporting companies that provide essential services to the education sector entered into partnership with Socketworks Global in June 2002.

  Dubbed 'Digital Bridge Programme,' it facilitates the digitisation of universities and public institutions on the continent and has so far digitalised over 50 universities and polytechnics across West Africa.

Founded in 2002, Socketworks Global with operations in Nigeria (has largest higher education system in sub- Saharan Africa), Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Uganda is steering the use of ICT in African universities many of which are cash strapped and cannot procure expensive computer equipment and software systems.

In East Africa, Uganda's Makerere University Business School (MUBS) has been Socketworks entry point after the roll out of its (MUBS) US$1.5 million (Ush2.56 billion) ICT system last week by Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni at the campus in the capital.

Students and employees at MUBS are now enjoying the benefits of the new system through which several university activities can be done online with the customised integrated management information system portal application.

The annual student user fee of Ush40,000 ($23.39) to access the service is incomparable to the benefits that await the over 8,000 MUBS student community who may no longer have to purchase the expensive text books.

Although some students this reporter spoke to at the campus were fairly naïve of how the system would work, they (and the informed ones) were excited about the innovation that would make life easier for them both financially and physically.

It now enables students to pay fees (still in talks with banks), register for classes, manage their coursework, check their assignments, do research in scholarly journals and data bases- all online from any internet connection point on or off campus.

For example on the software side, students will pay using ATMs after which transaction he/she is allocated a personal identification number worth the money deposited. After verification is complete, logging into the system will send a report to the Academic Registrar's office for approval. The portal also allows lecturers to post assignments and other educational supplements customised to their specific needs.

A similar project also based on the Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT) model is expected to be replicated at other universities in the region and continent in general over the coming months.

East African Business Week