3 July 2012. Researchers from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Facultad de Informática have developed a tool for managing microcredits awarded to university students in developing countries. Grant holders are allowed to repay their loan by means of technical work at their university or the academic institution's partner companies.
The tool is called Uburyo, which in Kirundi (the language spoken in Burundi) means “opportunity”. This software includes a grant manager and an employment office, all supervised by an international committee that assures that the credit award and repayment system is transparent and trustworthy. Universities can use this application to administer grants in order to grow financially and provide access for students without means.
One of the major problems that universities face with a view to educating future generations of qualified workers is that students do not have the means to enter higher education.
In the case of Burundi, the country for which this tool was originally designed, the per capita income is 160 dollars and university enrolment costs about 234 euros. The country has a population of almost 9 million, and about half of the adult male and a quarter of the adult female population is literate. Higher education is the province of a minority.
Repeated attempts at funding higher education in developing countries from development cooperation funds or donations have been thwarted by the opacity of the funding mechanisms, deviation of funds or even the loss of the invested capital because the loaned money could not be retrieved.
The system designed at the Facultad de Informática has proved that the money can be retrieved quickly. Nine grants worth 2187 dollars (donated by an external non-profit organization) were awarded in the first round of grant awards at Burundi university, and 1458 dollars had been retrieved just six months later. They will be used to fund grants in coming academic years.
Higher education involvement
For the system to work, the university has to award grant holders paid technical jobs, either at their own facilities or at partner companies. Universities can even earn money with this system, although they are encouraged to feed a high percentage (for example, 80%) of earnings back into funds for new grants.
The educational microcredits system designed at the UPM has other additional advantages: it does away with aid dependence, and students take responsibility for the grant that they receive and also round out their education with technical work. This way, students are better qualified at the end of their degree, as they have already gained some professional experience.
Corruption and favouritism is combated by setting up an international committee which assesses the grant applications via Internet (as the tool has a web interface) and a local administrative officer that checks the data submitted by students. The software orders the applications and selects beneficiaries depending on household means tests and academic record. The university offers paid jobs for students to repay grants. The international committee approves the jobs, specifying the number of hours that each student has to serve to repay the grant received.
The software organizes this higher education microcredits system via the Internet. It has been developed using free and open source software and is available free of charge over the Internet. Universities or higher education institutions all over the world can download the tool and implement this microcredit-based grant system for higher education.
The microcredit system was designed by Susana Muñoz, Director of TEDECO (TEchnology for DEvelopment and COoperation) based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Facultad de Informática. The students Maximo Ramírez-Robles and Eduardo Martínez-Larraz were also involved in the development of this tool and implemented the software as part of their final-year project.
Most successful project
The system has been considered by experts as the most successful educational microcredits project, as it helps to retrieve the money invested without prejudice to the higher education institution or the students. The project has received two international prizes and a prize from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
It received one international prize in April last year at the EDUCON conference, organized by the IEEE and held in Marrakesh. The paper presented by Susana Muñoz was rated as the best in the educational methods category.
It received another prize at the “e-learning Africa” conference, held last May in Benin. Muñoz received the prize for the best session presentation. This prize was awarded by all the session participants (note that 87 per cent of conference participants are African).
Finally, Susana Muñoz was awarded the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid research prize in the category of research for development for her work at the helm of the TEDECO research group.
References of conferences that have published material on UBURYO (a poster in the first and articles in the following three):USA
2nd Annual Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV 2012) Atlanta, USA
Open Source Solutions for Achieving Millennium Development Goals (IDLELO5 2012) Abuja, Nigeria
Collaborative Learning & New Pedagogic Approaches in Engineering Education (EDUCON 2012) Marrakesh, Morrocco
7th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training (e-Learning Africa 2012) Cotonou, Benin
Grantholders at the University of Ngozi (Burundi). Photo: TEDECO.
This item on other websites
ACM Tech News 11.07.2012
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El Referente 05.07.2012
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La Flecha 04.07.2012
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Gran Canaria Actualidad 04.07.2012
Keegy Ecuador 03.04.2012
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