For West Africans, the reality of pursuing an American-style undergraduate or postgraduate degree close to home may be possible as early as January 2014. That is when Missouri-based Webster University plans to open the doors of its first African branch campus in Accra, the capital of Ghana.
A pioneer in international education since the late 1970s, Webster University today has 10 brick-and-mortar campuses in Europe and Asia. The recent announcement of approval for its first branch campus in Africa marks the beginning of a new and important chapter in the university’s nearly 100-year history.
Indeed, it represents further realisation of a goal the university has long had in forging links with those parts of the world that can benefit most from access to quality higher education opportunities.
Meeting “unmet local needs by taking education to where it is needed most” is something that distinguishes Webster University from many other institutions, explains president Dr Elizabeth J Stroble.
The university’s globalisation policy has roots that stretch as far back as 1919, when it first hosted French exchange students, a mere four years after its establishment.
While many universities have embraced this mantra in recent years, Webster’s modus operandi is different: “[Globalisation] is not organic enough a description as I would use. It is more representative of who our leadership, employees and students are as well as how our curriculum, geography and mission are characterised,” notes Stroble.
“Globalisation is very much a feature of how Webster breathes, lives and functions as opposed to a mandate enacted by the institution itself,” she told University World News. It has been described as being “baked” into the university’s DNA.
Campuses around the world
One of the oldest non-profit universities in the US, Webster University consistently ranks highly: it is among America’s Best Colleges as ranked by Forbes magazine and is in the top tier according to US News and World Report.
But more than this, Webster is the only Tier 1, private, non-profit US-based university with campus locations around the world. Indeed, various metrics – including those provided by the Institute of International Education – rank it among the top American masters level universities for long-term study-abroad programmes.
Key to this success is the university’s realisation of the twin goals of teaching local students while providing a place at its dedicated campuses abroad for its own and other international students to study. Such a degree of global exposure helps generate an atmosphere of true intellectual circulation.
This model of diversity has been used in every location from its first campus at Geneva in 1978 to those elsewhere in Europe – Vienna, Leiden, Amsterdam and London. Since the 1990s, Webster has opened campuses in Asia as well: at Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen in China and at Bangkok and Cha-am in Thailand.
The excitement about being able to establish a presence in Africa is palpable, not only among Webster staff, faculty and students but also the community in St Louis, where the university is based.
“There is something very energising about the learning that has gone along with this,” says Stroble.
A central theme of Webster’s global connectivity is responding to the needs of under-resourced parts of the world by spreading the net of international higher education more broadly.
Stroble notes that the university’s general global citizenship curriculum expressly articulates a goal of reaching out, “especially in parts of the world where we are not [located]…to expand [our] campus footprint beyond Europe and Asia.”
A presence in Africa
Establishing a presence in Africa helps realise part of that goal; while accommodating the global perspective will come through offering dually accredited American and Ghanaian degree programmes.
Not only will these degrees help establish a viable higher education presence in Africa, but they will be “uniquely attractive to prospective students”, explains Stroble.
Approval from the Ghanaian Ministry of Education was secured in July, and late last month Webster received approval from the Higher Learning Commission. That will enable the new campus to offer degrees that will be accredited in Ghana as well as in America.
Campus infrastructure for instruction and administration is already in place through the use of two former residential buildings that are being renovated by the Egyptian developers, Wadi Degla Holding Company.
Patrick Giblin, director of public relations at Webster, adds: “We will certainly invest in building our own facilities, probably in the next two to three years.”
Webster intends to offer degree programmes at the Accra campus that are tailored to local demand and need, including those in business, communications and international relations. Others focused on health care and education are also expected in due course, but once enrolments have been established:
“We intend to start small with a small number of undergraduate and graduate courses, and then we will expand,” explains Stroble.
Importantly, the appeal of Ghana as host country is its political and economic stability. As such, the Accra campus will be able to rely on and serve existing employment opportunities through local business internships and other corporate partnerships.
Developing such synergies will, Stroble notes, stimulate growth and hopefully turn “the Accra campus into a regional hub”.
But in the end, this campus will help all students – local, American and international – develop skills that can be built back into the community, thus facilitating their own personal transformation and realising Webster’s mission “for individual excellence and global citizenship”.
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