Foreign universities streaming in to fill education gap

The new academic year that started on September 2 opened with three newly accredited universities recently cleared by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). More are expected to set up as the NCHE is currently sifting through files of new applications for licenses for new universities. There are eight public and 17 privately-owned universities for a population of about 11 million people, but new applicants will not stop flocking the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) for accreditations.
More professionals will be churned out by foreign universities with footprints in Rwanda. The New Times/ John Mbanda
More professionals will be churned out by foreign universities with footprints in Rwanda. The New Times/ John Mbanda

The new academic year that started on September 2 opened with three newly accredited universities recently cleared by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). More are expected to set up as the NCHE is currently sifting through files of new applications for licenses for new universities.

There are eight public and 17 privately-owned universities for a population of about 11 million people, but new applicants will not stop flocking the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) for accreditations.

Indeed, this new academic year that started on September 2 opened with three newly accredited universities recently cleared by the council. More are expected to set up as the NCHE is currently sifting through files of new applications for licenses for new universities or campuses.

What is the attraction?

So why is there a near stampede especially by foreign institutions for accreditation to operate higher learning institutions in Rwanda today?  Apparently, the demand for university education in country remains higher than supply even though the number of universities has grown from one in 1994 to more than 20 to date.

At the same time, despite a dramatic rise in the number of enrolled students to more than 80,000 from as low as 2,500 prior to 1994, several thousands more Rwandans who qualify for admission to university and other tertiary institutions miss out either because of the high cost of tuition fees or simply the lack of vacancies in the available, NCHE officials have revealed.

For that reason, hundreds, if not thousands of Rwandans continue to cross borders regionally and beyond, each year in search of university education – but those are just a few who are financially able.

Just like is the tradition in any business, foreign investors are keenly watching market developments in Rwanda’s education sector and are moving in to take advantage of available investment opportunities. The rational is to bring home those courses that only a few Rwandans can afford to study in foreign countries in order to capture even students who may not afford to study abroad and maximize on the big numbers.

The new ones are Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and Oklahoma Christian University. They bring to four the number of accredited foreign universities with footprints in Rwanda after Mount Kenya University.

“There are more applications – more than five. They are from the United States of America, United Kingdom, India and also [from] within the country,” said Dr Abdhala Baguma,  the acting director of Academic quality at the NCHE.

Is the quality maintained?

Yet as more foreign universities come in, questions are being asked whether these high-flying institutions will be able to replicate the high academic standards back home in Rwanda given what appears to be limited infrastructure they are setting up here.

Dr Innocent Mugisha, the NCHE acting executive director says it is not the size of infrastructure that matters as past quality audits have revealed that not only those institutions with extensive facilities produce good results. “Those are perceptions and the only way to address perceptions is by showing results,” he said.

Nonetheless, the council has in place a stringent vetting process to ensure that only those applicants with adequate infrastructure and academic staff are licensed to operate. Yet strictness does not only end vetting application as the council continues to monitor implementation of academic programmes.

“We are very strict on quality issues. The council has developed software to monitor lectures,” Baguma said. The aim is to ensure students are not shortchanged by lecturers who are registered as fulltime lecturers in one university, but also moonlight in many others.

If a particular lecturer is fulltime in certain university, the software is able to detect where else he may be listed as a lecturer. A red flag will be raised where ones different time tables clash and are seen not to be able to allow that particular lecture to provide satisfactory services.

According to Mugisha, foreign universities may appear to have limited infrastructure on the ground compared to their parent campuses back home, but that does not mean that academic standards will be compromised because these universities do not replicate all their academic programs here.

“For example, Jomo Kenyatta is shifting only a few of its programmes here,” he said. The university is housed in a single building by the roadside in Kicukiro, near Sonatubes roundabout.

According to Baguma, some of these foreign universities, especially those offering science courses, have had to sign partnership agreements with research and other institutions in the country to share facilities as a way of boosting their infrastructure.

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Will the new varsities offer better quality education?

Andrew Ntambara, corporate

It depends on the quality assurance programme of the education ministry. More universities will mean competition in the business.  This is likely to lead to trying to show excellence.  Quality education can only be realised if there is willingness of students to do the work themselves and the lecturers to be firm not to offer degrees in return for sex or money.

Doreen Ingabire, lawyer

Most of these universities are mere investments, some have a very big impact on education but others really don’t. There are those universities that award credentials that are internationally recognized especially in the countries where they come from; these I can say partially contribute to the quality of education.

Paul Muhiima, student

The increase in universities means competing for students and therefore reducing on the tuition fees. However as universities compete for more students, the huge number means that lecturers have less control of the classes and this can lower the standards.

Mbabazi Carolyne, parent

I think it’s a good venture that can reduce monopoly. Whereas some people say these universities bring a lot of competition, it is a good thing because quality services are ensured if they are to stay on the market thus improving on the quality of education.

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