Many African nations lack the infrastructure needed to keep up with other global cultures when it comes to ICT research, education and innovation. In a bid to improve the availability of ICT resources and bridge the ‘digital divide’ between nations, Aalto University has launched the ENhANCE project, which has seen them team up with institutions in Ethiopia and Tanzania to provide the technical and educational support that can help address the challenges faced by these countries.
As part of the ENhANCE project, launched in May 2013, Aalto University has partnered with two institutions: the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Ethiopia, and the College of Information and Communication Technologies at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. A team of experts from Aalto’s Department of Communications and Networking will provide a variety of educational programmes and activities at both campuses over the next two years.
“Despite what statistics may suggest, it is important to remember that in much of Africa the number of people employed within the ICT sector is increasing,” says Professor Jyri Hämäläinen, a researcher based at Aalto University’s School of Electrical Engineering. “However, the high-tech industries in these nations are small compared to Europe. They’re making discernible progress, but this is being inhibited by a lack of competent personnel who can build and maintain local ICT systems and infrastructure.”
Both Tanzania and Ethiopia have a critical need for more well-trained, highly skilled and innovative graduates in ICT disciplines such as networking and communications engineering. Moreover, there is also a demand for high-level ICT research conducted in local institutions to address the challenges and priorities faced by these countries, and also to provide a boost to their economies through the commercialisation of their research and cooperation with industry.
The ENhANCE project has held a number of events in which delegations from the African universities have visited Aalto. Senior personnel were able to view the university’s facilities and gain an understanding of its relationships with local industries. Between December 2013 and February 2014, technical training in Africa began with ‘hands on’ courses on wireless systems simulations and theoretical lectures in advanced wireless technologies. So popular was the Ethiopian installment of the latter that three regional universities (Jimma, Bahir Dar and Hawassa) were able to witness the session remotely, via video link.
“The primary objective of the project has been to deliver an understanding of recent technical developments in mobile and wireless systems. As part of this, we need to acquaint students with systems like 3G and 4G mobile networks. Ultimately, these are technologies that we hope to transfer using the framework of the project, so that participants can utilise them in their own societies to meet specific needs. The second objective is to help each country extend their industrial reach,” Hämäläinen explains. “Both of these strands are, of course, closely interrelated, and the overall vision closely corresponds with national strategic goals.”
“The courses held so far in both territories have attracted significant numbers of professional participants,” says Dr Edward Mutafungwa, a coordinator and project manager for ENhANCE. “Our activities involved staff from Ethiopia Telecom in Addis Ababa and the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, with classes evenly split between academics and industrial or governmental representatives. This is another way in which we can help universities to strengthen their connections with business and national bodies, and will hopefully encourage them to undertake joint projects. We are hoping to see the gestation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that can capitalise on local innovations after the project has concluded.”
Mutafungwa is keen to emphasise that the scheme is not merely an exporter of knowledge, but that the participants from Aalto have also learned much from the experience. “We’ve become a lot more aware of the technology’s relevance in new contexts, and the opportunities for its exploitation in these markets. There are challenges in Africa that are non-existent in Finland. At an institutional level, the initiative has also increased our visibility and encouraged numerous foreign students to attend Aalto.”