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Africa can lead innovation, says ALU founder

Africa has the potential to lead the world in education innovation, according to Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership University, as the continent can develop without “the constraints of legacy”.

The African Leadership University has a campus in Kigali, Rwanda (pictured), and the African Leadership College's campus is in Mauritius. Photo: ALU

"Some of the world’s greatest universities, by the end of this century, will be African universities"

Innovating and reinventing the traditional models of higher education is necessary if Africa is to develop apace with the growing demand of this level of education, he said.

Tertiary enrolment rates are 8% in Africa, said Swaniker, and to catch up with India’s enrolment rate of around 24%, the continent would need to build 135 universities the size of Harvard every year for the next 15 years.

“When you are in that kind of environment, you can’t do things the normal way if you want to catch up,” he said. “So it will mean completely rethinking higher education so that you have models that are more efficient, more effective and much more affordable.”

“Because we don’t have the constraints of legacy, a lot of the innovation in education will come out of Africa”

Swaniker believes institutions originating from Africa could have the potential to become some of the most prestigious in the world.

“Because we don’t have the constraints of legacy, a lot of the innovation in education will come out of Africa,” he said.

“Some of the world’s greatest universities, by the end of this century, will be African universities that were born in this time of innovation and disruption to higher education.”

The potential that African universities have in higher education worldwide was also discussed at the first Africa forum at the NAFSA annual conference this month.

In a research paper presented at the forum, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, vice chancellor of the United States International University-Africa in Kenya outlined that African universities have the opportunity to transform themselves into “viable centres in global higher education”.

Zeleza also wrote that African universities often suffer from too little and too much internationalisation.

“They are modelled on the higher education systems of the global north and many have yet to fully decolonise themselves in their structures, processes, governance and curricula,” he wrote.

Swaniker co-founded the African Leadership University four years ago in order to meet the skills gaps facing Africa.

“We wanted to provide students with that knowledge, character and skills for the 21st century,” he said. “So we did research with about 150 employers around the world asking them what are the skills they typically find missing in college graduates.”

Identifying seven ‘meta-skills’ including managing projects, analytical reasoning and critical thinking, these helped form the basis for the institution’s curriculum.

Instead of declaring a major, students declare a “mission for life” with the learning curated around that problem, followed by four month long internships.

“If you can give the students a chance to define their own mission then that would allow them to align their education with a purpose,” said Swaniker.

Read our full PIE Chat with Fred Swaniker here.

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