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Lo’au University, Tonga’s first online virtual university

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The Lo’au University, Tonga’s first Online University, was officially launched yesterday, January 6, by the Minister of Education, Hon. Dr ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki at the Lopaukamea II Hall, University of the South Pacific Campus, Ha‘ateiho.

The occasion, though very humble, and attended by less than 200 people, was in a way revealing of what a Tongan virtual university is really like – where students do not gather in one place.

Unfortunately for the occasion, the Lopaukamea II Hall did not have any internet connection, so it was not possible to access the internet and the virtual Lo’au University where communication between the faculty and students is done online through the internet.

Semisi Tongia, the Master of Ceremony, and one of the 11 members of the LU board of directors said the Lo’au University’s philosophy is “education for thinking”, an extension and revival of “education for knowledge”.

Semisi said that the full enrollment of Lo’au University when it starts at the end of January is expected to be more than 500 students, including 500 scholarships that have been awarded to first year Tongan students by the board members themselves, and in the future they hope to have others sponsoring scholarships.

The first in-take of Lo’au University also included six students, three from Tonga, two from Australia and one from the USA who will be studying for their masters.

Another five students will be studying for their Phds, with three from Tonga and two from overseas.

Semisi said that at this early stage only Tongan-based students are eligible for scholarships, and “overseas students have to pay fees.”

Once students are registered they will be given IDs and a passwords so that they can access the Lo’au University website and their course material.

“All the communication between the students and their lecturers will be carried out through the internet. They can down-load their courses, reading materials or watch video lectures,” said Semisi, who stressed the importance for intending students to register before the end of January so that they could access the LU website.

He said for the sake of students who do not have access to the internet, a temporary measure was for them to contact Dr Siosiua Lafitani at his home at Pahu, Nuku’alofa, to make other arrangements.

Semisi said that in the near future they would set up a Tonga Computer Laboratory base, for students who can not access the internet at home.

He estimated that a student would need about 40 minutes of download time weekly.

With the advantage of having fast access to courses and lecturers Semisi believes that university education through the internet will enable a serious university student to reduce a “five year or six years degree program to only one year or two years.”

He said that a student at LU could get his or her first degree in one and a half years.

Lo’au University for the 2014 academic year has six schools, offering 34 courses.

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