CONTACT: LOIS GRAY
Iowa City IA 52242
Release: Aug. 28, 2000
UI team wins $250,000 federal grant for Internet training in Nigeria
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Digital Divide, the name given to the disparity of
Internet connectedness between rich and poor in the U.S., is a gaping chasm
in much of the developing world. In African countries like Nigeria, where
electricity is available only sporadically, functioning telephones are rare,
and half the population does not have access to potable water, the Internet
looks more like a distant mirage.
However, two University of Iowa instructors are working to close that gap,
using the fledgling Nigerian Internet to build a digital bridge between Iowan
and Nigerian scholars. With a $250,000 grant from the State Department and
the United States Agency for International Development, Michael McNulty, a
professor of geography, and Cliff Missen, a systems analyst in the department
of physiology and biophysics, will spend the next three years assisting Nigerian
universities in developing their computer networks. UI International Programs
is providing considerable administrative support and is a major contributor
to the direct costs of the project.
"We have spent nearly three decades building academic relationships
with colleagues in Nigeria, but those ties are weakening as it becomes increasingly
difficult to communicate with them," McNulty said. "These linkages
are a vital part of our research endeavors and our students' international
experiences. We can't afford to let them falter due to inadequate technology."
To reverse this trend, McNulty and Missen will begin coaching decision-makers
at Nigerian universities to make informed choices about technology and will
train Nigerian university computer technicians to keep the new systems fully
Missen, who was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria in 1999, said that
in his travels to Nigerian universities he heard a common complaint from vice-chancellors
and department heads: "We have no idea what we ought to do next. The
array of options are dizzying and the only people willing to talk to us have
something to sell and are not reliable."
"In the parlance of the computer trade, most African universities are
'first time' buyers," Missen said. "First time buyers are notorious
for making unwise choices -- either buying or attempting too much or too little
-- whereas those who have struggled with their first wave of computer systems
make wiser choices the second time around."
Missen and McNulty hope to help share the lessons learned at American universities
with Nigerian decision-makers so they can be "second time buyers"
the first time around.
They also plan to train a cadre of technicians to maintain the Nigerian
networks. Past efforts to train technicians at Nigerian universities have
proved problematic. Technicians usually traveled overseas for training, using
scarce resources that would otherwise fund faculty training. When the trained
technicians returned, they were frequently scooped up by local businesses
willing to pay many times a university salary. Missen and McNulty hope to
counter this trend by offering computer and network training in Nigeria.
"With U.S. trainers going to Nigeria, the Nigerian universities can
send ten times as many people to training at half the expense," Missen
said. "The private sector may still poach some of these technicians,
but the universities will have a much larger pool of technicians to fall back
Missen, McNulty, and other trainers will travel to Nigeria once a year to
conduct workshops and consult. Before they go, however, they will have already
covered a lot of ground. Using computer-based training packages, course curricula
on CD-ROM, and email, they will have prepared the trainees in advance.
Missen and McNulty have already delivered to Nigeria 26 computers donated
by individuals and businesses in the Iowa City area. They plan to continue
to collect equipment, software, and training materials for partner universities
In addition, Missen has already connected Nigerian and U.S. students by
teaching an Internet-based course simultaneously at the UI and the University
of Jos in Nigeria.
"My American students have all the riches of the Internet at their
fingertips while their Nigerian counterparts only have an email system that
sends messages a few days a week," he said. "It was a real eye-opener
for some of the U.S. students when the Nigerians stopped communicating for
five weeks after their telephone connections died. I think it is hard for
many of us to imagine not being able to communicate with distant family, friends,
and colleagues for that long of a time."
Missen and McNulty's project is a logical extension of the three-decade's
worth of collaborations between the UI, the University of Ibadan, and the
University of Jos. More than two dozen African faculty members have spent
time at the UI as visiting professors and numerous UI students and faculty
members have studied and conducted research at the Nigerian universities.
The project will broaden and strengthen UI instructional and research programs
associated with the Third World Development Support Master's Program, the
Global Studies Program, the African Studies Program, and the ongoing research
and training programs of the department of geography.
Further information and photographs can be found at the project's Web site:
can be reached at (319) 335-7880 (office) or (319) 338-8542 (home). McNulty
can be reached at (319) 335-3565.