Four African universities are to receive US$86.6 million over the next eight to 10 years from the MasterCard Foundation in scholarship funds and other support for economically disadvantaged young people, MasterCard Foundation CEO Reeta Roy announced in Cape Town on 3 December.
Makerere University in Uganda, the universities of Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, or KNUST, in Ghana will join a global network of 21 university partners under the Canada-based foundation’s scholars initiative.
The programme will be extended even further into Africa in the coming years, making it one of the continent’s largest scholarship funds. Some 15,000 young people are expected to benefit.
The scholars programme is the foundation’s 10-year, US$500 million programme to develop young leaders. “It is a major initiative, with 22 partners,” said Roy. But until now it had only one partner in Africa – Ashesi University in Ghana.
The new African university partners were named on 3 December, while Roy was attending the Talloires Network Leaders Conference taking place near Cape Town.
"Are we only educating young people, or are we doing something else? I suspect we are developing young leaders. But are we developing the right kind of leaders? These are questions which occupy us at the foundation,” Roy said in a keynote speech at the Talloires Network Leaders Conference.
“We see a unique role, I would say a significant role, a powerful role for institutions of higher education to develop transformative leaders... who will not only address poverty but more importantly will promote prosperity with dignity for all people,” Roy told the conference.
She described transformative leadership as that based on integrity and self-awareness, driven by a sense of purpose to close inequities and to improve the lives of others.
There are a number of criteria for selecting the universities whose students will benefit, Roy told University World News. “A key element is their commitment to educating young people who have come from disadvantaged or economically vulnerable communities.
“We are talking about young people who might be the first to go to university, so we were looking at a fundamental commitment from the universities in Africa to create a supporting environment for these young people to succeed.”
The scholarship part of the funding package removes the financial barrier to bright but economically disadvantaged students studying at a university. But the foundation will also work with institutions to support mentoring, internship opportunities, career counselling and life skills leadership development training for the selected students.
“This is not just a scholarship programme. It’s a scholars programme,” Roy said.
Although universities have their own academic criteria and are responsible for recruiting the students, the foundation will support the partner institutions in reaching out to outlying communities to recruit talented students.
The programme will help cash-strapped universities to “go beyond capital cities and the more elite schools”, she said. The search will be for students with potential but who also have “a desire to give back”.
Many young people who have benefited from funding say if they had the opportunity, they would help someone else like themselves, not necessarily a brother or sister.
“Many of them are already breadwinners while funding younger siblings’ education. We could see them give back in so many ways in terms of supporting the family and supporting members of the community,” continued Roy.
Maame Kwamah Otsieku Baah, a MasterCard Foundation scholar at KNUST in Ghana, which has already recruited its first cohort of scholars, said higher education had sparked the urge to give back to society.
“I believe that even if I cannot change the world, I can lead the change. True success can only be the measure of the value I add to the lives of others.”
The African university partners will also take a high proportion of students from all over Africa as part of the scheme.
While the majority of African scholars will receive funding to study at the African partner universities, a proportion will have the opportunity to study in North America at six partner universities in the United States and three in Canada.
“For North American universities this has been very welcome because many of them have an international strategy recruiting students from Asia – they have a China strategy, an India strategy and want to do more student recruitment in Africa but may not have always had the means to build that kind of capacity and expertise and outreach,” Roy said.
For the African students going to North America there is a clear expectation of their return.
“A critical factor for return is maintaining connections with home. That connection is built into the design of the programme, largely in the form of internships so that every student has an opportunity to have an internship back home.”
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