Indeed the 21st-century education system in Africa must move from an old, obsolete system to one that can propel the continent for growth, driven largely by technological innovations and a noble search for knowledge. Securing the capital to embark on radical changes in the Ivory Towers has been herculean as well. The passion by authorities at the African Leadership University (ALU) to raise money for a revamped graduate education is noteworthy and should be emulated.
The African Leadership University, based in Mauritius had an ambition to raise $30 million, and this came true in a Series B round led by Danish retail billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen.
The funds are to launch out the institution's lifelong learning centers program, ALX, which opened in Nairobi last year and is set to open more centers in Johannesburg, Lagos, Cape Town, and Casablanca later this year. The co-founder, Fred Swaniker said university graduates can now enroll for a six-month course to acquire leadership, technical skills and literarily digitize knowledge that will make them “highly employable”.
According to Fred, since traditional graduate programmes are expensive and time-consuming, the centers can operate out of fairly low cost set-ups such as co-working spaces, and include career placements and incubator programs for entrepreneurs. “We’ve been moving away from the conventional university programs and focused on unlocking Africa’s leadership talent,” he says.
The African Leadership programs have been focused on reinventing African high school, university and graduate education while attempting by unleashing its human capital for sustainable development. For example, you may not require a 4-year degree to get the required skills for employment and instead of traditional schools where tens of millions find it difficult to gain admission, the ALX centers can absorb more people.
A 2016 survey showed only 10 universities in Africa were among the top 1000 schools in the world.
The latest funding round was originally agreed back in July 2018. It consists of about $28.2 million in new cash and, according to Swaniker, there’s an additional $2.5 million in convertible debt.
In just over three years, ALU has raised $80 million, says Swaniker. Its long-term backers including the Omidyar Network and Silicon Valley investors including Bob King. That total is now made up of $50 million in venture funding to run its education operations, $20 million for its real estate arm to build campus properties (which it leases to the school) and another $10 million for its student finance program.
Also under the program, students can now secure loans by “taking an equity stake in their future”. After a student graduates ALU receives a fixed percentage of their income over a five to ten-year period. “Unlike a traditional loan, if they don’t get employed there’s nothing to pay,” says Swaniker.
The African Leadership program commenced in 2004 as a not-for-profit elite high school program in South Africa called the African Leadership Academy (ALA). It later metamorphosed into full degree programs with ALUs in Mauritius where its main campus is located and Kigali, Rwanda, the location of its business school.
So far, over $100 million has been raised by the ALA as a not for profit organization. The frenetic pace of its expansion is driven by Swaniker’s stated goal of trying to scale rapidly enough to have trained three million leaders by 2035 when African countries will collectively have the world’s largest working age population. Due to this giant strides, it is crystal clear that African education system can begin to take back its rightful position as it did during the North African renaissance in science, setting in motion the philosophical and scientific foundation of our world. This is only achievable through strategic funding focused on addressing today's challenges and solving future once.
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