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Can the virtual university expand access to higher education in Africa? The dialectic of the local and the global

, Indiana University, United States

Indiana University . Awarded


A recent phenomenon in higher education is the emergence of the virtual university. Some observers have attributed its emergence to globalization and technological innovation. This dissertation study is about one particular instance of the virtual university phenomenon, the African Virtual University (AVU). The AVU initiative was launched with great promise by the World Bank in the mid-1990s on the premise that it would leverage information and communication technologies (ICTs) to significantly expand access to higher education in Africa. Almost ten years after it was created and despite being launched with such great hope and promise, the AVU was yet to have the impact once envisaged.

In this study, I sought to investigate whether the African virtual university could expand access to higher education in Africa? This was done with the help of cultural-historical activity theory, which made it possible to conceptualize the AVU initiative as a complex activity system riddled with contestations and contradictions. I sought to identify the source of, and analyze the contradictions that seemed to characterize the implementation of the AVU initiative and consider their implications for the mission to expand access to higher education. Data collection methods included participant observation, document analysis and interviews.

Findings indicate contradictions along the local versus global dimensions that seemed to characterize the implementation of the initiative. The primary contradiction was identified as that between technology (ICTs) versus content in the sense that ICTs were leveraged in a way that favored the distribution and marketing of imported degree programs at the expense of leveraging ICTs to enable local institutions design a scalable and flexible system to help expand access to their own programs. This led to secondary contradictions, for example, the system took on a global versus local hierarchy in the division of labor that left limited opportunities and resources for building human capacity at the local level since the educational systems design was done externally by the foreign providers, with local institutions relegated the responsibility of learning facilitation and the provision of learning facilities.


Adala, A.A. Can the virtual university expand access to higher education in Africa? The dialectic of the local and the global. Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University. Retrieved February 22, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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