As the need for academic excellence and qualification grows, there is an increasing tendency for Rwandan students to travel abroad in search of a more fulfilling educational experience. The expectations are enormous, with many students hoping to have more access to better facilities, more exposure, and hopefully, stand a better chance of getting employed anywhere in the world. Is there a viable argument for this preference, or is it simply the attraction of spending some years away from home?
Admission to universities in India for international students is pretty easy. One only has to attend a university fair in their local city, armed with their secondary school transcripts. If the results are pleasing, you will be admitted on spot. Thereafter, you are handed your admission documents, a few papers about the money that you should pay, more paper work involving the acquisition of a student visa, and that is it. All in a day’s work.
On the other hand, admission to an American university is almost a year’s venture; involving tons of e-mails and journeys to the bank, intimidating visits to the US embassy, more e-mails, rejections, frustrations and then a huge sum of money for tuition. For some colleges, it requires that one sits more exams, simply to prove that they are worthy of an American college degree. And then, there is that terribly expensive air-ticket. A similar experience is required for admission to Canadian and European universities, while study in countries such as Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa seems to be an easier process altogether.
It seems that quality of education is the most reasonable argument to study abroad. Generally, such universities are known to offer a better quality education; quality being measured in terms of resources and facilities, qualifications of the academic staff, the visibility and repute of the university internationally and in some cases, the alumni of the university. In any case, it seems that historical and heritage advantage does not matter so much- putting into consideration that most of the universities in India and Malaysia that are frequented by international students are only less than a decade old. That said, it seems that they are willing to invest lots of money in marketing and advertising that appeals to the international market. American and Canadian universities, which are much older and reputable, have always generally attracted a large following of international students over the years.
The most popular courses of study for international students are generally science-based courses such as Medicine and Engineering although a number of students choose Economics, Law, Business and related courses. Recently, however, Computer Science and Information Technology especially in India have become very well-liked by international students and Rwandans have not been left behind. The quality of education offered abroad cannot be independently verified by one person since every student has a different experience.
The qualifications of the teaching staff at local universities are more often than not at the same level as those in universities in the USA and Canada since most of them were trained there. Therefore, the possibility of better quality education does not lie necessarily in the idea that the teaching is better. Resources such as computer laboratories, libraries, research facilities are certainly much more abundant in international universities. This does play a significant role in the provision of a better education and academic experience.
Importantly though, there seems to be an increase in the number of universities in Rwanda, even as more students leave the country to study abroad. These are coming up as alternative answers to the education vacuum that is created as more and more students are finishing secondary school (thanks in part to the government’s Nine Year Basic Education Programme) and the fact that the National University of Rwanda does not offer sufficient scholarships.
Several arguments may be presented to support local universities, such as the fact that since education should ideally promote innovation to solve challenges in our communities - local colleges that exist in these communities provide these opportunities and would be better placed to give students a good foundation for this. However, it is likely that students that study abroad are more motivated, maybe because of the new environment and the need to perform well.
The differences that exist are therefore mostly in educational system and curriculum. International universities seem to use a more open, liberal and research oriented approach while local colleges are still using an educational system that was established in the colonial era and which does answer modern day challenges. The idea therefore is that it is not perhaps a symbolic change in the facilities and resources that is urgently required, but rather a paradigm shift in the mindset of students, an improvement of the university curriculum, emphasis on research, creativity and innovation and more motivation to teaching staff.
Local colleges can also collaborate with the private sector to have more of their students engaged in employment and internship as opposed to the rather mythical idea that students from abroad are better placed to perform better at work. This will certainly encourage students to study at local institutions and restrict the continued brain drain of talented Rwandan students abroad.
After all, it is much simpler to be admitted to a university here at home.