The formation of the African Universities Veterinary eLearning Consortium AUVEC has initiated a major new venture aimed at capacity building for the African animal health sector through the provision of new online learning opportunities.AUVEC has been formed following a series of workshops exploring approaches to developing pro-poor animal health services through enhanced veterinary education jointly organised by Makerere and Edinburgh universities with the support of the DFID Animal Health Programme.The workshops have been held in Naivasha, Kenya (October 2005) and Entebbe, Uganda (March 2006).
Members of AUVEC are the vet schools in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Republic of South Africa represented by their respective deans; the African Virtual University; the Malawi Veterinary Service (where there is no vet school); and the University of Edinburgh (associate member). Once established this initiative aims to expand to include other nations, including post-conflict countries; sectors, such as animal health training institutes; and languages (francophone and lusophone).
The aim of this consortium is to create a common eLearning framework, which will develop, deliver and share learning resources across the African veterinary network in order to improve the quality of delivery of animal health and production services for the poor.
Livestock are vital to the livelihoods of millions of poor people in sub- Saharan Africa. But endemic and epidemic diseases limit productivity, jeopardising assets of the poor and exacerbating poverty. Diseases can sometimes be transmitted between livestock and people, posing a direct threat to the health of livestock keepers, their families and the communities in which they live. Donor-driven structural adjustment policies have decimated African veterinary services through hasty privatisation programmes, exacerbated by HIV/AIDS and brain drain. Control of endemic livestock diseases now relies on farmers, animal health assistants and extension workers often ill equipped for the task. The livestock sector is also changing, driven by increasing demand for livestock food products by increasingly urbanised populations in developing countries.
The massive challenges to be overcome in developing pro-poor animal health services are exacerbated by the chronic shortage of post-qualification training for vets. The learning opportunities currently available to veterinary professionals largely remain limited to traditional MScs and PhDs offered as full-time, residential courses. These are expensive - far beyond the reach of the majority of workers in either the public or private sectors who can ill afford to devote two or more years to full-time education. The AUVEC group has identified a clear need for higher degrees offered via flexible, distance learning formats and less formal opportunities for Continuing Professional Development. This vision for capacity building for the African animal health sector through the provision of new learning opportunities includes a great desire to acquire the skills to enable the African universities to deliver learning resources online to meet the needs of both urban and rural communities. The flexibility of eLearning provides enormous potential for making a real impact in Africa where there are serious problems in retaining trained professionals and major difficulties in enabling those who need education the most to learn while they are working.
AUVEC is now scoping the roadmap to enhance animal health services through the provision of online learning opportunities for vets. Steps in this path will include: The development of skills and capacity in authoring and delivering eLearning; sharing of eLearning courses and content; and development and delivery of online Masters programmes and Continuing Professional Development courses.
Both the African Virtual University and the University of Edinburgh will play key support roles in building the infrastructure needed by the consortia and sharing knowledge and expertise to develop world-class e-learning. Edinburgh has already made a significant contribution to the capacity of the members of AUVEC to enhance veterinary learning through the donation of the Computer-aided Learning In Veterinary Education (CLIVE) suite of eLearning resources.