The objectives of the NIAGARA grant directly address digital transformation, inclusion, and diversity, and will impact participation in democratic life and civic engagement through a focus on digital competence. The connection between digital competence and participation in democratic life and civic engagement is well-established, particularly with regard to issues such as misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. Indirectly and in the long term, the grant will likely contribute to addressing issues related to the environment and climate change by supporting education and learning at the tertiary level, as well as research.
- The specific objectives of the project
- Relevance to International and EU policies and priorities
- Relevance to national and institutional policies for Tanzanian HEIs
- Relevance to national and institutional policies for Zambian HEIs
The specific objectives of the project
The NIAGARA project aims to enhance digital resources within university libraries across Tanzania and Zambia, ensuring equal access to library services for all students and staff. In addition, we will examine the essential digital skills required by both librarians and students to deliver efficient library services. To support their development, we will provide short courses tailored to enhance these digital capabilities. The NIAGARA project aligns with international, EU, national, and institutional priorities, making it a vital initiative for academic progress.
Relevance to International and EU policies and priorities
The NIAGARA project is closely aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education) and specifically addresses the following targets:
- 4.3 Equal access to affordable, technical, vocational and higher education.
- 4.4 Substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
- 4.7 Education for sustainable development and global citizenship.
- 4.a Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
- 4.b Expand higher education scholarships for developing countries, specifically in relation to supporting “enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programs”.
Tanzania and Zambia have a total tertiary education enrollment rate below 5% for the population aged five years after secondary school. Factors such as limited capacity and insufficient funding contribute to the low number of learners pursuing higher education. This project focuses on enhancing digital skills for university students, rather than addressing the reasons behind the limited access to higher education. Our emphasis will be on improving the quality and availability of learning opportunities for those enrolled in university programs. Additionally, the project is related to SDG 10, which seeks to reduce inequality within and between countries by addressing the digital divide both internationally and domestically.
The project is dedicated to promoting equal access to affordable technical, vocational, and higher education while increasing the number of skilled youth and adults for employment and entrepreneurship. It emphasizes education for sustainable development and global citizenship and strives to create inclusive, safe, and effective learning environments that cater to all individuals, including those with disabilities and diverse gender identities. Additionally, the project seeks to expand higher education scholarships for developing countries, focusing on enrollment in various fields such as vocational training, information and communications technology, technical, engineering, and scientific programs.
The NIAGARA project also aligns with several key EU policies:
- “Implementation Guidelines – Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps Inclusion and Diversity Strategy” (EU, 2021): The project addresses educational and geographical barriers by developing universally designed open courses and improving access to both physical and online libraries.
- “Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027” (EU, 2020): NIAGARA focuses on enhancing infrastructure, connectivity, and digital equipment, and offers open online courses to develop digital skills and competencies. The project prioritizes digital competence, acknowledging both technical and competency-based factors that foster digital literacy. The universally accessible courses can be reused by other academic libraries and integrated into library and information science (LIS) programs and vocational training across various countries. Although our primary target audience is librarians and LIS students, the courses will be accessible to all students and can be adapted to different needs and contexts.
Relevance to national and institutional policies for Tanzanian HEIs
The National Higher Education Policy (1999) in Tanzania emphasizes the importance of inclusion and equity in providing educational opportunities for all. It highlights the need for equitable and inclusive learning environments, as well as infrastructure and resources to support teaching, learning, and research. Libraries play a vital role in this process by offering information services.
Tanzania’s National ICT Policy of 2016 aims to use ICTs to develop a knowledge-based economy, advance socio-economic goals, and promote digital competencies. It also seeks to bridge the digital divide by ensuring universal access to ICT products and services. The Information and Communication Technology Policy for Education further supports the integration of ICTs and digital technologies in schools, colleges, and higher education institutions to facilitate teaching, learning, and research.
At the institutional level, the Sokoine University of Agriculture charter states that the University is set to advance knowledge, wisdom and understanding. This is done through the provision of academic facilities for university education and through assisting in the preservation, transmission, dissemination and enhancement of knowledge. At the University of Dar es Salaam, the ICT policy aims to enhance user competencies necessary for the development and usage of a continuously evolving ICT infrastructure, support the development of qualified personnel regardless of gender, physical disability, race and religion and foster the use of information resources and services.
At the institutional level, the charters of Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Dar es Salaam emphasize advancing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Both institutions’ libraries play central roles in supporting their core missions. Institutional policies recognize the importance of computerizing core university functions, including integrated information systems for teaching, learning, and library services, to improve access to electronic resources and services.
Despite the perceived importance of these technologies, the libraries at the University of Dar es Salaam and Sokoine University of Agriculture still face challenges, such as inadequate digital infrastructure and insufficient digital skills among library staff. These limitations have significantly impacted the libraries’ capacity to support teaching, learning, and research at both universities.
Relevance to national and institutional policies for Zambian HEIs
The Zambian Government’s Educating Our Future policy emphasizes the importance of equal opportunities, non-discrimination, and the inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream education (Chitiyo & Muwana, 2018; UNESCO, 2021). Zambia’s National Information & Communication Technology Policy aims to transform the country into a digital economy and knowledge-based society, ensuring that all Zambians have access to high-quality ICT services regardless of their background or status (Zambia. MTC and ZICTA, 2021).
Various Zambian policies and acts, including the Constitution of Zambia Act, No. 2. of 2016, the 1996 National Policy on Education, the Higher Education Act No 4 of 2013 as amended in 2021, the 1996 and the 2021 Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training (TEVET) Policy, and the Persons with Disabilities Act, No. 6 of 2012, emphasize the need for persons with disabilities to have access to education in their communities (Ministry of Education, 1996; Government of Zambia, 2021; Zambia. MSTVET, 1996; Zambia. Ministry of Higher Education, 2021; Government of Zambia, 2012). The Higher Education Authority requires every university in the country to have an easily accessible online library for both students and academic staff (Zambia. Higher Education Authority, 2021).
The University of Zambia’s 2018-2022 strategic plan highlights inadequate and poorly equipped libraries and laboratories and generally “ICT infrastructure that is inadequate to meet the dictates of modern learners, research and teaching”. In addressing these shortcomings, the institution has proposed in the strategic plan that it will work towards implementing a fully-fledged e-learning platform for all university academic programmes and enhancing the accessibility of e-library facilities and ICT infrastructure. It further states that they will work toward the promotion of community outreach and beneficial partnerships; both locally and internationally through the establishment of strong linkages with all stakeholders (University of Zambia, 2018: 10, 24, 26). In terms of disability, the University of Zambia promotes and implements the government policy of equity and equal opportunities to education for all Zambians.
The University of Barotseland has an inclusive policy for online learning and library support services to cater to both students and academic staff. Despite efforts to digitalize the institution’s library, it has not yet been successful due to inadequate digital technology infrastructure and expertise. The university is committed to increasing the accessibility of tertiary education in Zambia and internationally and was established to supplement government efforts in bringing higher education closer to the community.