Change the world


Nelson Mandela University as one of the leading drivers of the project in Africa recently hosted the kick-off meeting of Digital Initiatives for African Centres of Excellence - or Digi-Face – which aspires to open up educational access by linking geographically separate participants with user-friendly tools and technology.

This international project will develop and put into action digital learning strategies across Africa and the meeting has drawn delegates from universities in Niger, Senegal, Kenya, Mali and other African countries as well as Germany.

Prof Dr Ewald Eisenberg, representing project lead partner Kehl University in Germany, said the plan was to roll out Digi-Face over the entire continent.

“Sometimes there are thousands of kilometres between a supervisor and student, which makes learning complicated. There also may be unrest or difficulties with travel,” Prof Eisenberg said.

He listed e-learning (electronic) and m-learning (on a mobile device) as well as blended learning (a combination of traditional and digital) as possible solutions to the challenges of education in Africa.

“Blended learning is the most useful because we can adapt the various learning scenarios to what people really need,“ he said.

However, despite high demand and motivation for e-learning, a Kehl University survey showed that very few African universities were able to access this due to lack of basic equipment and a stable internet connection.

This gap has to be bridged because, as Mandela University Learning and Teaching deputy vice-chancellor Prof Cheryl Foxcroft noted at the conference, “increasingly if students cannot learn in digital spaces then we are not doing our job”.

Project Leader of the East and South African German Centre of Excellence for Educational Research Methodologies and Management Prof Paul Webb, also based at Mandela University, said it was important to build capacity in Africa so that all its universities could use the relevant tools.

“Our role is also to train trainers on aspects of using apparatus and digital assets provided by the project within their own areas of expertise,” Prof Webb said. “We want to make life easier, not more difficult. And no matter what we do digitally, it depends on the content, in other words, it depends on human beings!”

German academic Prof Bernd Siebenhuener from Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg said Digi-Face would offer a variety of modules across five areas or “work packages”.

“The idea is to develop skills for everyone at the universities, not only the IT people, and that is why we will offer a range of courses. Digi-Face is for everyone,” Siebenhuener said.

Mandela University will produce at least six generic modules for postgraduate students and academics on research supervision and online learning and teaching for all 11 of the DAAD-funded Centres of Excellence in Africa.

Although Digi-Face has an open-source policy where access to resources is free, the conference also looked at how to generate revenue to ensure sustainability.

The German Academic Exchange Services (DAAD) and the German Federal Foreign Office are the main sponsors of Digi-Face.


Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching Prof Cheryl Foxcroft, left, welcomes Dr Dorothee Weyler of the German Academic Exchange Services, a major funder of Digi Face) to the opening of the Digi-Face trans-continental initiative.

Frankfurt School’s Nilly Chingaté Castaño, left, Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Paul Webb and Susan Kurgat of Kenya’s Moi University were among the academics taking part in the kick-off meeting. 

Delegates at the Digital Initiative for African Centres of Excellence kick-off meeting.

Contact information
Prof Cheryl Foxcroft
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning & Teaching
Tel: +27 41 504 2332