Satellite Web-Based Delivery for the
South Institute of Information Technology
Prepared by Naveed A. Malik, D.Sc. and Peter T. Knight, Ph.D.
There is a severe shortage of quality IT faculty in Pakistan and a growing demand for large numbers of qualified IT graduates both within and outside Pakistan. The Virtual Information Technology University (VITU) will bring together a critical mass of quality faculty to provide world-class education in the IT sector to a large student body.
A parallel development will be the establishment of the South Institute of Information Technology (SIIT), initially a separate project proposed to the G77 Summit in Havana in April 2000 by Pakistans Chief Executive.
Background and Rationale
The starting point and key for the expected success of the VITU and SIIT is that there is a documented, strong demand for computer science graduates meeting world standards of quality. Second, the project may be seen as the first step, a proof of concept, for a smart, learning nation approach to socio-economic development in Pakistan. The key to a smart, learning nation development strategy is to organize institutions and the population at large to take advantage of the technology now available to unleash and nurture the talent in the full population, not just a mostly-urban elite. Last but certainly not least, the VITU has been declared the highest priority project in the Ministry of Science and Technologys IT Action Plan, with the highest budget allocation of any project. In short, the project meets critical, felt and articulated need for IT personnel for domestic and international markets.
VITU proposes to address this situation by bringing together public and private sector institutions to participate in the VITU program. Faculty expertise would be identified and utilized from its original location without any relocation. VITU will deliver high quality VITU using technological means supplemented by a tutor-network. VITU would participate in the establishment of over 100 state-of-the-art virtual learning centers with a capacity for teaching 50-100,000 students nationwide annually. One flagship Virtual Campus would be set up by VITU itself.
The principal stakeholders, such as public and private sector educational institutions and software houses, have shown a strong support for the project. Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation (PTCL) and National Telecommunications Corporation (NTC), the major telecommunications companies, have expressed willingness to participate in the project and both would want to supply communications services. NTC seems to be the logical choice.
One challenge for the VITU concept is to bring the various educational institutions to common ground as far as course contents are concerned. Owing to the projects well-defined focus on IT, this should not cause any serious problems. The establishment of a national computer science association would be essential to guide the thrust of education and to raise the prestige of the profession. The proposed National Testing Service would play a crucial quality-assurance role for the VITU.
The VITU will start by offering short updating courses to existing IT professionals. These courses will act as pilot programs and would be used to iron out any deficiencies in the delivery and interaction mechanisms. A fast-track degree program will then be started aimed at engineers and science graduates and finally the full-fledged 4-year degree program could be initiated.
Instructional design will be a critical area for the new electronic content delivery mechanism being envisaged for VITU. Starting with a simple camera-in-the-classroom approach, VITU will evolve rapidly into delivering education through rich, interactive web-based content. Instructional designers will be required for this purpose and a master-trainer would be required to train a group of designers. Content development will be outsourced to other institutions as much as possible, thereby enlarging the community involved in the VITU effort.
The Pakistan Academic Intranet will form the basic infrastructure over which the major educational institutions would be connected. The same network would become the primary channel for use by VITU. The minimum bandwidth recommended for the network is 2Mbps with OC3 (155 Mbps) being the objective in the near term. The excellent national optical fiber network will be supplemented with two-way satellite connectivity, especially for the SIIT.
Eminent personalities from various walks of life will form the Board of Governors of the VITU. An Academic Council will be the controlling authority for course content and curriculum design. Prominent computer scientists, academicians and entrepreneurs will be invited to the Academic Council.
There is strong support to the concept of VITU/SIIT among the various stakeholders. However, to create an environment conducive to long-term survival of the VITU, a focused effort would be required through strategic communications, marketing and advertising of the concept to create a favorable climate of opinion and build client support. It is important that the support base among stakeholders should be as broad as possible. The objective of this effort is to build political and financial support for the concept of VITU, more broadly, for a smart, learning nation strategy where the delivery system for IT education points the way to K-to-gray education and training lifelong learning for anyone, anyplace, anytime, with just-in-time learning being an important part.
Financial projections for VITU for a period of 5 years starting from 30th June 2001 and ending at 30th June 2006 have been developed. These have been prepared on the basis of the underlying assumptions given in the feasibility study show a healthy state of affairs whereby VITU is projected to attain self- sustainability within three years of full operations. Thereafter starting from the fourth year of operations i.e. June 2004 onwards the projections show that the University shows considerable profit, surplus cash and growth in assets and these keep increasing provided it attains the projected outreach.
Moving from VITU to SIIT GSTF and UNDP Funding
Estimating the additional costs and revenues which would be generated by including non Pakistani participating institutions and students resident outside Pakistan requires an international study which has not yet been undertaken. There is also a need to translate VITU into other languages, and to acquire transponder space on a digital satellite covering much of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. There are several such satellites available.
This acquisition of the space segment and additional uplink equipment required by SIIT could be funded by the GSTF.
The conduct of an international market and feasibility study for SIIT and the translation of VITU materials into other languages (e.g. Arabic, French, Farsi, and Turkic languages of Central Asia), constitutes a separate project for which UNDP and other funding may be appropriate.