26 July 2013

Rwanda: Kigali Gets Top Foreign Varsities

Education policy to ensure knowledge economy by 2020

Rwanda appears to be shifting from its decade-long isolation from international higher-education partnerships as foreign universities enter its untapped education marketplace. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Oklahoma Christian University, and Mount Kenya University (MKU) are among the international universities that have set up shop.

Dr. Innocent Mugisha, the acting Executive Director of Rwanda Higher Education Council says Rwanda is open for foreign universities. He also hopes that foreign institutions will make significant monetary investments in Rwanda and top-class universities will add prestige to Rwanda's education system.

"This is a milestone which enhances choices, increase competition and benchmark quality. This will help in the development of Rwandan education system," he said. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a world class US institution that now has a campus in Kigali. This saves students the burdens of acquiring a visa to go to the U.S. for the same kind of education.

CMU offers technology related master's degree in its Kigali campus that seeks to serve other parts of Africa including Eastern and Central Africa. Also another US based university--Oklahoma Christian University has inaugurated a campus in Kigali to offer a Master's Degree program in Business Administration.

Mount Kenya University (MKU) already doing business in Rwanda has three campuses in Kigali and it is planning to increase its presence in other parts of the country. The three campuses in Kigali have a student population of around 4000.

One year later, the university has introduced a variety of bachelors and master degree courses in different areas. MKU has also attracted many students who may be interested in acquiring Kenyan certificates.

Jomo Kenyatta University, another Kenyan university, has also opened a campus in Rwanda becoming the second Kenyan university to offer Kenyan degrees in Rwanda. Jomo Kenyatta University intends to offer technology, agricultural and business related courses.

Does Rwanda need foreign universities?

Cisco Kanuma, a third year student in Mass Media and Communication says Rwandans need the foreign universities to enhance the quality of higher education and get an opportunity to choose a university of their choice.

Dr. Eugene Ndabaga, the vice rector for academics at Umutara Polytechnic University (UPU), says the foreign universities expected to fill in the void through research collaborations, twinning programs, joint degrees, and, possibly, branch campuses.

"The country has created a healthy competition," he says. Dr. Ndabaga also notes that opening doors for foreign universities proves that Rwanda's education sector has matured.

There has been a surge in a number of graduates and institutions of higher education compared to the 1995, the immediate post-Genocide period, when there were only two universities in Rwanda, one public and one private. Since 2008 the Kigali leadership has been pushing for private sector involvement in the sector.

He also points out that it has been common knowledge that hundreds of Rwandan students annually have been crossing borders in pursuit of higher education in different countries not only on the African continent but also in Asia, Europe and North America.

The opening of some foreign universities in Kigali has to some extent curbed the flow of students away from the country, mostly in search of better education.

More foreign universities are set to open shop with a recent report from the ministry of Education showing that Rwanda has 31 tertiary institutions of which 17 are public and 14 private. Among the 17 public institutions, eight are degree awarding while nine are diploma awarding.

Statistics also indicate that the country has a steady growth of enrollment in tertiary education institutions both public and private between 2006 and 2013. Joseph Musisi, the marketing and public relations manager at MKU told The Independent that the university started a Master degree in Business Administration (MBA) and other universities started offering it as well which is a clear indication of rising competition.

"As Mount Kenya we believe competition is healthy as far as economic development is concerned; the demand is still very high but what matters is affordability and this year we expect a bigger number of students," Musisi said.

"We have plans to open branches upcountry or liaison offices and given a chance we can open branches but at moment we need to have a home to build pride for our students since in the future they will have to tell their children."

Musisi denied allegations that the university has no qualified personnel for its masters programs. "We have qualified staff with PHDs those with masters are just assistants. We also have one of the best qualified academic staff drawn across the region and beyond. We have lecturers from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Cameroon and Europe."

A lot to learn

Dr Mugisha says all international universities operating in Rwanda are carefully vetted through their respective institutions of higher learning and only qualified ones are licensed to operate.

"Quality has become a matter of major importance for higher education, at higher council of education we do consider a number of things among them is the state of infrastructure, staff and after granting authority to open shop we carry out regular monitoring and supervision all done in the name of maintaining or improving quality."

He further said: "Today the education sector is open for both local and foreign investments and we try to give Rwandans a choice of what university they want to attend." He says the foreign institutions can increase access, add new programs, provide needed faculty, add a global perspective, and fill in the gaps in the needed areas.

"We are still behind most international countries and have a lot to learn from them." Rwanda aims to become a knowledge-based economy by 2020, gradually shifting from the current agriculture based economy which requires heavy investment in the education sector.

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