Carnegie Mellon U. to Open Campus in Rwanda, a Milestone for Africa

September 14, 2011

Carnegie Mellon University plans to open a branch campus in Rwanda next year, making it one of the few American colleges offering degrees in Africa.

While a number of American universities work on the continent, often establishing partnerships with local institutions on research, faculty-training programs, and other educational ventures, Carnegie Mellon's appears to be the largest commitment to date.

The Pittsburgh-based institution will be the first American university to operate a full-fledged campus in Africa, said Kevin Kinser, co-director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany, which tracks branch campuses worldwide.

"Africa is clearly an underserved region for international-branch campuses," said Mr. Kinser, who is an associate professor in the university's department of educational administration and policy studies. The continent's educational needs are great, but the financing of large African programs is a challenge, he added.

For its part, Carnegie Mellon is receiving $95-million over 10 years from the Rwandan government to operate the program, which will start next year and initially offer master's degrees in information technology and in electrical and computer engineering. The university expects to enroll 40 students at first, eventually expanding to 150 by 2017. It will seek to attract students from East Africa, with a preference given to Rwandans. The Rwandan government will offer scholarships for its citizens to pay for the program's tuition and other costs.

The program will start off in rented office space, but eventually move to a 30- to 40-acre campus that is being built on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda's capital.

Carnegie Mellon will hire 10 to 15 faculty members to teach in Rwanda, said Pradeep K. Khosla, dean of the university's College of Engineering. The professors will spend time in Pittsburgh to learn the institution's curriculum and teaching style as a way to make sure the courses in Rwanda are of similar rigor. As with its other overseas programs, Carnegie Mellon will also occasionally compare homework and examinations from Rwanda with students' work from its home campus to make sure they are of similar quality.

"Typically, when you do these [campuses] in other countries, you're concerned about grade inflation," said Mr. Khosla.

He added that the university may offer Ph.D.'s eventually, but has no plans to enroll undergraduates. Instead, it wants to work with Rwandan colleges to improve the pipeline of African applicants to the program. In addition, the university will create a business incubator to help students create their own businesses and an executive-training program.

Recovery From Genocide

African education experts applauded the effort and said they hoped the high-profile move would encourage other foreign universities to get involved in the region.

"The establishment of a U.S. branch campus in Africa is an exciting new development," said Anne-Claire Hervy, chief operating officer of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities's Africa program. She emphasized that Carnegie Mellon's plans to help local universities and foster entrepreneurship are the kind of assistance that is key to improving Africa's quality of education and its private sector.

The collaboration with Carnegie Mellon is part of Rwanda's effort to transform itself following the genocide that devastated the country in 1994. Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, has been accused of an authoritarian-style rule, but he has attracted foreign investors to the East African nation and sought to innovate in its economy. Mr. Kagame is visiting Pittsburgh on Friday to announce the new venture with Jared L. Cohon, Carnegie Mellon's president.

For Carnegie Mellon, the Africa campus is part of a growing global network. It has established programs in Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Portugal, and runs an undergraduate branch campus in Doha, Qatar.

Mr. Khosla said that the international efforts bolster Carnegie Mellon's prestige and that American students benefit with opportunities to study abroad and understand other cultures; such exchanges will help them develop engineering ideas and products suited to the needs of other parts of the world, including Africa.

"It's extremely important we think of learning from Africans," he said.

If Carnegie Mellon is successful, Mr. Khosla said he expected other American universities to consider opening academic outposts in Africa.

"Most universities are extremely conservative," he said, "so they're probably waiting to see somebody else put their toe in the water and see if they get burned or not."


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