The Government of Kenya through the ICT Authority has officially launched a network that connects 136 University Campuses across the country through a $22.5 million grant. The funding, extended by the government in the course of the last five years, was channelled through the Kenya Education Network Trust (KENET), which is a National Research and Education Network set up in 1999 to promote the use of ICT in Teaching, Learning and Research in Higher Education Institutions in Kenya.
The grant has resulted in an investment in campus infrastructure of about two times the amount awarded making KENET sustainable in all its operations. The number of institutions connected has grown from 6 at inception to 136.
The network was built to provide access to affordable connectivity in order to increase the research and educational experience of students in institutions of higher learning. Currently, KENET serves around 250,000 students, 8000 teaching and 20,000 members of non-teaching staff. The bandwidth is offered at a subsidized cost of USD 160 per Mega bite and 10 MB are enough to serve 1,000 students.
The launch, which was held at the Technical University of Mombasa, was attended by University Heads and ICT officials who are attending a Head of institutions forum aimed at increasing higher education uptake of ICT. With the launch of the network, it is projected that more students, academia and the researchers will utilize effectively the high speed internet that is now available across campuses. It is anticipated that this will have a direct bearing with the cadre of graduates coming out of local institutions.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Dr Fred Matiangi’ the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of ICT said that the country now has a robust internet connection made possible by the laying of the fibre optic cable and it’s critical to up the demand for digital content.
“Today’s university students must be part of a robust educational system. KENET allows this to happen by providing universities with high speed internet. It is now possible for our students to be in tandem with the world,” said Mr. Matiang’i.
Dr Matiangi emphasized on the need for Public Private Partnerships and called for the involvement of the academia in implementing government projects. “There is need for Multinationals to collaborate with our universities for skills transfer if we are to build a sustainable ICT industry,” he said.
The private-public partnership model used by KENET has made it possible to develop a large national network in only five years and this it has done so with limited financing.
“The 1998 Kenya Communication Act enabled the growth of the sector and integration of private sector through public private partnerships,” said Prof Meoli Kashorda, the KENET Executive Director.
Prof Meoli highlighted some challenges in connecting more institutions, including fiber links, licensed radios or even commercial leased lines. Connecting a campus via a leased line outside Nairobi still costs about Kshs 690,000 on the average, he reported.
Many university campuses will need support in rolling out campus-wide wireless LANs, upgrading their campus fiber backbone networks, and for last mile broadband connections via fiber. These represent huge investments – the rule of thumb is that campus network investments should be 10 times the KENET national backbone investments. “At this time, the total campus network investments has only been one times the KENET/MoIC investment in the national network,” said Prof Meoli quoting from data collected and analyzed by KENET from various universities.
Another issue that needs addressing is that of increase of laptop ownership among students. An e-readiness research done by KENET this year show that on the average, over 50 per cent of the 400,000 students in higher institutions own laptops but only 13 per cent are visible in the campus networks (or are bringing to the campuses). In the report at least two universities had over 80 per cent of the students reported that they have their own laptops.
That’s why the issue of awareness among students is important for KENET. With this launch, KENET targets to increase membership and increase the uptake of bandwidth by students and researchers. Once the students are aware, they will be able to use the network for research; the universities will be able to use technology more to interact with the students- e-learning, video conferencing session, podcasts and online registration.
As Kenya works towards creating a knowledge economy, experts at the launch said broadband uptake will contribute to building solid skills among students.
Research has demonstrated the direct correlation of broadband penetration to economic growth. According to a World Bank report on broadband; for every 10 percent broadband penetration, a country’s economic growth rises by 2.5 percent.
“These realities are the achievements we want to see registered in this country,” said Dr Matiang’i.
Also in attendance were Prof Josphat Mwatellah VC, Technical University and Prof Crispus Kiamba who is a Trustee of KENET.