Since 2007, the AVU has made strides in order to align with the needs of its networks and learners. This resulted in the development of a five-year Business Plan 2009-2014 that defines the AVU business strategy and plans. It builds upon the core elements of AVU’s earlier sustainability plan, sets the AVU’s financial and operational objectives for five years, and describes various changes and actions that will be taken in order to reach these objectives. The business plan represents a shift in the view of the AVU’s activities from purely project-based and donor-funded to educational and support services provided on a fee basis and not-for-profit development services.
The AVU has decided to put a strong focus on organizational sustainability. This business plan therefore represents a shift in the view of AVU’s activities from purely project-based and donor-funded to a mix of two groups of service offerings:
Educational and support services provided on a fee basis. This would include the following service offerings:
- AVU diploma & certificate programs and courses
- 3rd party programs & courses
- eConferencing & Virtual Meetings
- AVU webinars
- 3rd party webinars
- Custom Content Development
Not-for-profit development services that AVU has traditionally provided in the past under its capacity building initiative. This would include activities such as:
- Updating and developing content
- Open Educational Resources (OER) Development
- AVU Capacity Enhancement Program (ACEP)
- Setup or Upgrade a Learning / ODeL Centre
- Developing Professional Networks (consortia, communities of practice, etc)
- Research & Development
- Quality Assurance, Evaluation & Benchmarking
In general, the AVU will frame as many of its activities as possible as services that are provided to the client / recipient for a fee, irrespective of who pays for the fee. The fee may be paid by an individual, by an NGO or international organization or by a donor. This applies, as much as possible, to both of the above categories.
Each service should generate enough revenue for the AVU to pay for the direct costs of providing the service, as well as an appropriate share of the AVU’s overhead. The latter is called the service’s contribution margin. The AVU will strive to provide as many iterations of each service as possible each year in order to drive down the required contribution margin for each service (e.g. to take advantage of economies of scale). This will permit the AVU to keep its service fees to a minimum and will reduce the risk of the AVU becoming heavily dependent upon revenue from a limited number of service channels. The long-term goal is for the AVU’s fee-based services to cover all of its overhead costs, so that not-for-profit services require funding only for their direct activities.
The AVU will intensify its efforts in educating the public about eLearning, so that more people are aware of how eLearning works, what its advantages and disadvantages are, and how and where they can access eLearning resources. Funding for a specific and sustained public awareness / communication campaign will be solicited from the AVU’s donor community.
AVU’s marketing activities will utilize a variety of channels in tandem to reach each of its target client groups with the greatest efficiency possible. The AVU will dedicate staff to this function and will structure activities so that they continuously expand and improve the AVU’s marketing reach. The goal of the AVU’s marketing plan is three-fold:
- Increase participation in / subscription to AVU’s services. Make target client groups aware of the AVU’s specific service offerings on a regular basis, so that they have adequate information in order to register for or subscribe to AVU services.
- Increase AVU brand recognition. Expand awareness among target client groups about the AVU as an ODeL-based educational service provider. Make them aware of the breadth of services that the AVU now offers.
- Increase AVU brand value. Build up a positive view of the AVU as the pre-eminent leader in ODeL-based tertiary education throughout Africa. Explain /sell the AVU’s capabilities and advantages to target client groups. Correct or counteract any inaccurate or negative impressions among target client groups.
The AVU will dedicate staff to the Fundraising / Resource Mobilization function and will structure activities so that they continuously expand and improve the AVU’s effectiveness in this area. The AVU’s resource mobilization activities will focus on procuring funding for include:
- Open Distance and eLearning -related development services that the AVU has traditionally provided in the past.
- Scholarships for individual or group participation in AVU programs and courses.
- Projects that do not fit into the AVU’s new service and fee structure. In these cases, the AVU will seek funding to cover estimated direct project costs as well as a management fee of 10-20% to cover overhead and administrative costs that are indirectly driven by the project.
The contribution margin from the AVU’s fee-based services and the management fees from donor-funded projects will cover the AVU’s organizational overhead. Consequently, the AVU will not seek core funding for its general operations from donors.
In order to reduce its risk of overdependence on a small set of donors, the AVU’s resource mobilization activities will focus on increasing and diversifying its donor base. In particular, the AVU will focus on mobilizing resources from private sector corporations / businesses, bilateral development organizations, individuals and AVU alumni.
The AVU has reorganized its membership as follow:
- Member States: The Republic of Kenya, Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali and such other sovereign states on the African Continent as may be admitted to the membership of the AVU from time to time.
- Partner Institutions: universities, other institutions of higher learning in Africa, and non academic partners, which participate in the programmes of AVU or run joint programmes of the AVU. Academic Partner Institutions refers to universities and other institutions of higher learning in Africa, which participate in the programmes of AVU or run joint programmes of the AVU. Non-Academic Partners refers to African and non African institutions, which are not academic institutions, and which participate in the programmes of the AVU or run joint programmes of the AVU.
- Strategic Partners: Donors, institutions, corporations, companies, and organisations, persons from public and private sectors and/or academia selected on the basis of their competence, qualification, integrity and willingness to serve for the good of the AVU and to mobilize and raise funds for the purposes of the AVU.
The AVU organizational structure and roles & responsibilities will be adjusted to facilitate the new service orientation, ensuring that it is managed well and improves continuously. The proposed changes will have to be done carefully so that they do not negatively affect the AVU restructuring exercise that started in 2007. The revised structure also seeks to group staff in competence areas in order to leverage the staff’s skills & abilities across many similar initiatives and to increase opportunities for internal knowledge transfer.
Course Delivery and Access Points
The AVU will continue to leverage its relationship with the Partner Institutions and the Learning & Open Distance and eLearning Centres that it helped to set up, as these centres provide a physical presence for AVU’s educational network in most African countries. This is a significant attraction and competitive advantage for some of the new fee-based services that the AVU will offer. The AVU will further expand and diversify its network of Learning Centers and access points.
The AVU will also focus on increasing access to its offerings from outside of the PIs, Learning & ODeL Centres. Webinar offerings and consolidation of all of its programs on a web-based Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or Elluminate will allow users at home or in cybercafes to access and participate in many of these AVU programs, courses and seminars. The AVU will then be able to directly reach individual learners and new audiences without using the Learning and ODeL Centers. This will also allow the AVU to reach more learners and to significantly contribute to increase access to education.
Finally, AVU will reinforce research & development activities to find or develop new, innovative ways to provide access to education in Africa, for example via a mobile handset (mLearning). As solutions for conducting eLearning over mobile handsets are developed, the AVU will assess them and implement those that seem most likely to be effective and sustainable in Africa.
AVU’s long-term goal is for its fee-based services to cover all of its overhead costs, so that not-for-profit services require funding only for their direct activities. The five-year financial projections 2009-2014 display the beginning of this gradual shift of AVU funding from heavily donor-based to a more self-sufficient service fee-based model.
As the AVU continues to increase the efficiency of its program delivery and services and diversify its offerings, it will further reduce its dependence on donor funding.
The AVU will establish a reserve fund which it will use to generate investment income and temporarily meet its cash flow needs, thus ensuring a degree of financial stability. The reserve fund will be initially set up using any surplus funds that are left over at the end of each fiscal year. It may be further augmented in the future with leftover unrestricted funds, other types of savings or direct contributions to the fund from partners.