Project Update

Wednesday 3 April 2024

The Promise of the Universal Acceptance in Academic Institutions Initiative

Nodumo Dhlamini, Director, ICT Services & Knowledge Management, Association of African Universities

Abdul Manaf Sulemana, UA Project Officer, Association of African Universities

The Promise of the Universal Acceptance in Academic Institutions Initiative

Universal Acceptance (UA) is a foundational requirement for a truly multilingual Internet, one in which users around the world can navigate entirely in local languages. To achieve UA, all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems, must regard all top-level domains (TLDs) in a consistent manner, including new generic TLDs (gTLDs), internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), and IDN country-code TLDs by accepting, validating, storing, processing, and displaying all valid domain names and email addresses.

The AAU-Led Initiative for Promoting UA in Academic Institutions

Launched in Accra on 13 April 2023 by the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under the Coalition for Digital Africa, the UA in Academic Institutions initiative is part of a broader goal to expand Internet access in Africa.

The initiative aims to foster collaborative community outreach and engagement, enhancing UA readiness across AAU's 400+ member universities. This ensures equitable treatment of all domain names, including IDNs, and email addresses across Internet-enabled applications and systems. As key agents of UA principles adoption, these institutions are supported in updating their systems and integrating IDN and UA concepts into their IT and computer science curricula.

Key Milestones achieved to date.

  1. The AAU observed the UA Day on 28 March 2023 which attracted 48 in-person participants from 7 higher education institutions in Ghana physically attending the event and 153 virtual participants globally. This event was also broadcast live on the AAU TV which is viewed across 27 African countries.
  1. Two technical workshops were held for ICT Directors and CTOs from African higher education institutions. The first was held in Accra, Ghana, on 14 April 2023, and the second in Windhoek, Namibia, on 3 July 2023, aligning with the AAU COREVIP pre-conference activities. These workshops, attended by 43 individuals from 11 universities and 2 governmental bodies in Accra and 26 participants from seven countries respectively, focused on UA, including programming and email administration, to enhance UA-compliance in their university systems.
  1. On 15 and 16 February 2024, webinars in English and French languages were held to discuss strategies for updating computer science curricula in African higher education institutions to include concepts around IDNs and UA. Leaders in academia were the target participants for this webinar - 249 participants joined for the English session, and 34 participants joined the French session. 

Upcoming Activities

A third technical workshop is scheduled for 26 April 2024 in Rabat, Morocco on the sidelines of the Middle East DNS Forum 2024 to further discuss inclusion of the IDN and UA concepts into the computer science and information technology curricula.

Challenges and Opportunities

  • The configuration of UA-compliant email systems and websites requires appropriate skills and capacities. There is a need to continuously train the technical staff by running workshops in the five official languages of the continent. Interpretation costs increase the expenses of delivering virtual or in-person training.
  • During discussions on strategies for updating computer science and information technology curricula to include UA concepts, academic staff were concerned about who would teach the topics concerning IDNs and UA. This demonstrated the importance of investing in the training of academic staff so that they would be confident in delivering the new curricula.
  • The bureaucratic process of updating curricula in African higher education institutions might hinder the building of the capacities of computer science and information technology students. The curriculum is designed into micro learning modules to help mitigate such challenges. Still, a multi-pronged approach is recommended involving the holding of UA-curriculum seminars on campuses and using such platforms to raise awareness and build the capacities of faculty members.
  • A significant number of African Universities use Yahoo, Gmail and related email systems as their official emails. However, this does not mean that such universities do not have institutional email systems. This poses a challenge of testing the institutional emails for UA-compliance because time is spent ascertaining the institutional email addresses.
  • Testing websites running on content management systems (CMS) for UA-readiness required the AAU-ICANN team to broker a collaboration with the CMS to achieve the effective testing of the concerned websites.

As echoed by AAU Secretary General, Prof. Olusola Oyewole during the launch, “The Universal Acceptance in Academic Institutions initiative is a vital project as it is aligned to AAU’s strategic priority of strengthening the institutional capacities of its stakeholders to be able to implement the required changes to their digital platforms so that Africa is part of an inclusive internet. With a platform of 420 universities, the AAU remains strategically positioned to champion the required changes towards achieving universally accepted email systems and websites.”