Ambitious plans for new African Leadership University

The African Leadership University, launched in Mauritius last month with the aim of training Africa’s future leaders, has huge ambitions – to build 25 campuses across the continent and train three million leaders in five decades. It has partnered with Scotland’s Glasgow Caledonian University to award internationally recognised degrees to graduates.

The university was launched on 17 March with a grand opening ceremony at its flagship campus on the Indian Ocean island, attended by several African leaders, academics and dignitaries.

Among them was Graca Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela and a continental activist who serves as chancellor of the African Leadership University or ALU. “Building strong education institutions is perhaps Africa's most urgent priority today,” she said.

“ALU is an audacious initiative that uses innovation to create a fresh solution to an old problem – creating high-calibre leaders who will drive Africa's development and inspire generations to come.”

Aiming high

Dubbed the ‘University of the Future’, ALU set out a highly ambitious plan.

The idea is to build 25 campuses in major cities across Africa, which will host some 10,000 students each and will cost some US$100 million to establish. The overall aim is to produce three million African leaders over the next five decades.

With its first campus fully operational in Mauritius, officials said that in the coming months a new campus would open in the Rwandan capital Kigali, followed by a campus in Nigeria.

For now, though, the ALU and Glasgow Caledonian University will deliver degrees for the inaugural class of 180 students from 29 African countries who are already enrolled after being selected from among more than 4,000 applicants. They are working towards entry into Glasgow Caledonian University degrees in business, computing, social sciences and psychology.

The new university’s founder is Fred Swaniker, a Ghana-born social entrepreneur who also launched the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, a pre-university leadership initiative targeting talented high school pupils from across Africa.

“The end of major conflicts, reforms in governance and economic management, and a decade of steady economic growth now puts Africa on a promising growth trajectory,” he said.

“Whether this growth plateaus or translates to economic take-off entirely depends on the quality of leadership Africa produces.”

The African Leadership University’s mission is to grow a critical mass of high-calibre, capable and ethical leaders to underwrite Africa’s transformation.

Swaniker said: “We admit students after they finish high school and we offer them degrees but also train them as entrepreneurs and leaders. We want to deliver high quality leadership education at scale, and we want to do it outstandingly.”

The university’s curriculum has been designed to train students in critical leadership skills and expose them to the real world as well as deepen their personal and intellectual growth.

“We are offering, for example, the first pan-African MBA programme,” said the Stanford University-educated development expert, adding: “The destination of ALU graduates will be employment and entrepreneurship.”

“They are going into jobs, and creating their own jobs as entrepreneurs.”

A Scottish partner

Professor Pamela Gillies, vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, said the Scottish institution had been working in Africa for many years and that she was “very excited” about her university becoming ALU’s founding academic and accreditation partner.

“We share the same values and ambition – to build capacity and capability in Africa for Africa,” she told University World News.

“ALU has this fabulous foundation year for their students, [which] is a new way of learning from the bottom-up, trying to unlock young people’s talents and promote their confidence and self-esteem. I think this new way of doing something may actually make the world a better place.”

As the accrediting partner, Gillies said her university has employed a similar personalised learning approach. “We are co-creating a new offer at the heart of this new kind of university,” she explained.

Glasgow Caledonian University does not have a campus in Africa. However, Gillies said: “We have an authentic commitment to capability enhancement in Africa.”

Over the past five years, the Scottish institution has partnered with South Africa’s University of Johannesburg to offer a new kind of degree course to employees of Transnet, a state-owned company that is the biggest rail operator on the continent. The programme is the first of its kind and offers a formal qualification in railway operations management in South Africa.

“We have been researching in Africa for many years, working with the Mary Robinson Foundation,” said Gillies, adding that the university’s climate justice centre was now in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

Glasgow Caledonian said in a statement as ALU’s founding academic partner, it was accrediting and delivering initial undergraduate programmes in business, computing, social sciences and psychology.

Faculty leaders said the new university’s programmes had a focus on ethical leadership, employability and entrepreneurialism and each year of study incorporates a four-month internship with an employer partner, such as Coca Cola, IBM, and global management consulting firms McKinsey and Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers, among others.

A student speaks

Alex Mativo, a 20-year-old Kenyan student, said he looked forward to re-discovering himself while acquiring higher education. He said he learned about the new university from his network of friends in Nairobi.

An alumnus of the African Leadership Academy in South Africa – which uses a similar model but for pre-university students – Mativo had already ventured into business “recycling electronic waste to make jewellery” before being admitted to ALU.

Ethiopian-born Meklit Amsalu Baye (19) said she joined the Mauritius campus last October. “It’s been a wonderful experience meeting and interacting with my peers from diverse cultures,” she told University World News.

Asked what makes African Leadership University tick, she was quick, “It’s very different. It has a unique approach to learning and it’s also teaching us career skills which most universities don’t,” said the budding entrepreneur.