The lack of in- house capacity in the Department of Mass Communication at the Ugandan Christian University, UCU, has not held the department from offering PhD and Master in Journalism and Media Studies programmes to students at the higher learning institution.
With the aid of Internet connectivity from the Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU), the department is freely offering the two programmes- delivered mostly via online- with collaboration from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa and the NLA University College in Norway.
The programmes were introduced after UCU signed an agreement with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation’s (NORAD) through The Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education for Research and Development (NORHED) with the aim of building capacity in the Ugandan media sector through the strengthening of research and training at UCU.
Under the programmes, five PhD students from the Mass Communication department are being aided by RENU’s connection to learn and be supervised by lecturers based at UKZN in South Africa while the MA in Journalism and Media Studies students are taking a bulk of their lessons online from lecturers resident at the NLA University College in Norway.
UCU Head of Mass Communication Department Associate Prof. Monica Chibita says RENU has played a key part in the success of the NORHED project at the institution through the provision of a high speed and affordable bandwidth connection.
‘Our biggest concern when we were designing our partnership with our counterpart universities was whether the then existing Internet capacity was sufficient to sustain the teaching and supervision components of the programmes since most of the instructors are based away from UCU. But during our planning phase, RENU CEO Eng. Isaac Kasana made a presentation and assured us that we did not need to worry about bandwidth once we were connected to RENU.’
The Associate Professor says the Internet connection from RENU has been reliable and of high quality.
‘Over 90% of our lectures are based in Norway and in South Africa and all assignments are sent and evaluated online. Some of the courses under the MA program require a considerable amount of bandwidth to execute and often involve the transfer of heavy audio-visual files. With regards to the PhD students, they only live at UKZN for the first year but spend a considerable amount of the rest of the years in Uganda but still maintain contact with their supervisors. Without a reliable Internet connection like the one RENU is offering us, these programmes could turn into a nightmare.’
According to the Head of Department, the department now has two cohorts of MA students and four of the five PhD fellows are making steady progress towards completing their studies this year.
Brian Semujju, one of the PhD students, says receiving, sending and accessing learning materials has been so smooth.
‘High capacity and affordable Internet connectivity like the one we are using at the moment is very crucial for me as a PhD student. It is very useful for my own dissertation writing but also important when am writing a paper for publication,’ he says.
RENU CEO Eng. Isaac Kasana says RENU is delighted to enable the collaboration among the three universities and called on other Ugandan research and education insititutions to learn from how UCU has utilised its connection to RENUNet.
‘This kind of NREN-service utilisation is very garitifying because it is one of the use-cases at the core on NREN services. RENU is very delighted to provide a service that meets a vital collaboration need of a very committed member institution at the most affordable cost possible. I would like to call on other research and education institutions connected to RENUNet to make the most of the network by collaborating with their research and education partners within and outside Uganda.’
According to Associate Professor Chibita, the Mass Communication Department at UCU is now planning to introduce an e-Learning component to the MA programme with support from capacity from RENU.