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[HARARE] A leading Zimbabwean academic has submitted proposals to the government to open the country's first privately run correspondence university. The university would aim to equip distance learners with scientific, technical and business perspectives for the modern economy.

Sikhanyiso Ndlovu's 'University Without Walls' would use 'telematics' — a combination of video, mobile phones, email and the Internet. These multimedia tools would be used to conduct tutorials and deliver course material to students throughout the country.

The flexibility of the system will mean that students can study at work or at home, says Ndlovu who announced the plans in a speech last month.

Ndlovu, a renowned academic with a focus on education and technology, says he has submitted his draft charter to the ministry of higher education and technology and to the president of Zimbabwe for approval. If endorsed, the university would be managed by a trust set up by the Ndlovu family.

The university, which has already started enrolling in anticipation of the go-ahead from the government, is expected to recruit 50,000 students. On registration, students will receive learning kits containing a study guide and course modules, digital video decoder, and access code for opening the university website where instructions can be downloaded.

Course designers and writers will interact with a core set of tutors who will be able to broadcast lectures and send materials to a vast number of students.

The University Without Walls has signed an agreement with Africom, a leading Zimbabwean network solutions provider. Africom implements high-speed broadband wireless access and related technologies.

"The partnership is geared to provide video conferencing solutions for the university," Ndlovu told SciDev.Net. "Video conferencing is highly effective when applied to a distance-learning scenario."

Ndlovu added that "by combining Internet and intranet capabilities, lecture notes and assignments could be interchanged between students and lecturers".

Tapping into the power of cellular technologies will also allow institutions to quickly transmit time-sensitive information such as updates to learning materials, assignment questions and marks.

Ndlovu says he had already set up an investment base by using property worth more than ZWD$5 billion (US$900,000) to cover costs of materials and staff salaries, but adds, "we can not run this project in isolation. The funding and design of the project requires us to forge international relationships."

"The most important thing is to have international collaboration," says Ndlovu, who is a member of the International Council for Distance Education. "We are looking for international strategic partners."