Inspired by Ashesi, the African Development University sets new example in the Sahel

Years before Kader Kaneye enrolled for his Master’s Degree in 2016, he had already decided what he wanted to do with the rest of his career. Having grown up in Niger, Kaneye was among less than 1% of his peers to have gained a university education; today, tertiary enrolment in Niger is approximately 4% of the country’s 24 million people. He had closely followed the work and seen the impact of another West African institution – Ashesi University – and its founder.

In Kaneye’s mind, the Sahel needed institutions like Ashesi, built for the unique context of the region’s needs and opportunities but committed to similar principles of educating ethical, entrepreneurial leaders. Based on his own experiences with high impact education, Kaneye understood the difference it could make in Niger.

Kader Kaneye

Kader Kaneye welcomes the African Development University’s first class of Mastercard Foundation Scholars (Photo: African Development University)

In 2017, with an old building donated to help launch the university and a dedicated group of volunteers and partners, Kaneye and his co-founder Meredith Segal decided to establish the non-profit African Development University in Niamey. Their mission is to educate young people in the Sahel to become ethical leaders with the requisite knowledge, skills, and commitment to create the future of their nations.

The university has nearly 300 students, with 70% receiving scholarships and two-thirds of all students being women. In 2020, it became the first in the Sahel to join the Mastercard Foundation’s Scholars Programme network – a group of high-impact universities worldwide working with the Foundation to prepare young people to lead meaningful careers and transform the most underserved communities.

Two-thirds of all students at the African Development University are women (Photo: African Development University)

In under five years, the African Development University, one of nine universities in Niger, has quickly gained a reputation for transformative education. Kaneye credits a lot of the African Development University’s success to the support he received from the Education Collaborative – a significant programme led by Ashesi University to support universities like his grow and thrive in Africa. The programme was started in 2017, around the same time as the African Development University, to harness the collective work of higher education institutions in Africa for the continent’s transformation.

The African Development University

The African Development University: A Case Study For Effective Collaboration in African Higher Education
With Africa’s youth population continuing to snowball, high-quality universities and other educational institutions are needed more than ever to teach the skills and leadership necessary to make the most of this opportunity. At Ashesi, the consensus was resounding. Rather than replicate our model in other places, partnering with other universities to increase access to quality education would be more impactful for the teaching and learning outcomes needed across the continent.

“It’s not that Sub-Saharan Africa is not working intently to scale up access to access to higher education; it is,” shared Ashesi President Patrick Awuah, speaking at a TED Conference in 2018. “What is not being done yet, is the scaling up of quality and effectiveness. The way we teach is wrong for today. It is even worse for tomorrow, given the challenges before us.

And yet, the size of Africa’s educational challenges is too large for any one institution to tackle. The continent will need exemplary institutions of learning, clustered in East, West, Central, North and South Africa that serve as beacons to others; that are uncompromising in achieving quality in teaching, research and innovation; and that act as magnets for our best and brightest to stay on the continent.”

Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Aid, Araba Botchway, speaking to students at the African Development University (Photo: African Development University)

Some 159 institutions have participated in Education Collaborative activities to date, with 116,000 students being the direct beneficiaries of reforms and programmes focused on strengthening learning and career outcomes. Thanks to a significant partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, the Education Collaborative aims to have reached over 1,000,000 students by 2030 – an ambitious goal for all stakeholders involved. The African Development University has been one of the early beneficiaries of the Collaborative’s mentorship programmes, focused on helping new universities find the expertise, teaching and administrative support, and funding resources needed to start strong.

Reaching one million students by 2030: the future of the Education Collaborative
Over the next decade, the Education Collaborative’s work will focus on supporting three outcome areas within education: the teaching of entrepreneurship skills, ethics and leadership, and career and employability support. Member institutions in the Collaborative will include these outcome areas in their strategic priorities and contribute to developing shareable insights and expertise across the network.

To engage more effectively with institutions across the continent, the Education Collaborative will also establish hubs in various regions across the continent, with West and East Africa being the first regions to launch them. Hubs will be co-led by a selected group of Education Collaborative partners in the region who will commit resources and expertise to support others in developing and improving outcomes.

The Education Collaborative launched a hub in East Africa in 2021, with the goal of launching additional hubs across Africa within the decade 

The Education Collaborative’s East Africa hub, started in 2021, was led by eight partner universities. University leaders present at the launch of the hub were Paul Swaga (President, 
Davis College, Rwanda), Prof. Robert Gateru (Vice Chancellor, Riara University, Kenya), Eric Saulo (Director, Advancement and External Relations, Strathmore University, Kenya), Prof. Samuel Gudu (Vice-Chancellor, Rongo University, Kenya), Prof. Daniel Mugendi (Vice Chancellor, University of Embu, Kenya), David Mutabanura (Executive Director, Cavendish University, Uganda), Dr. Bonn Jonyo (Principal Research Officer, United States International University – Africa (USIU), Kenya), and Prof. Baylie Yeshita (Vice Chancellor, Kepler, Rwanda). 

The student community at the African Development University welcomes its newest members during an orientation week ceremony. (Photo: African Development University)

“What we have achieved in the last five years could have taken twenty years if we did not have the support of Ashesi and the Education Collaborative,” shared Kaneye during a welcome event for his university’s first class of Mastercard Foundation Scholars. “When we started, we just wanted to help solve a problem, but we didn’t have the tools and network. We kept hearing the same language from many others: we will help you; when you need anything, reach out to us. But when we did, no one answered. Ashesi and the Education Collaborative were the ones that answered. They answered, and they came here to build with us. Without imposing their learnings and ideals on us, this has helped us define our path and tailor a solution in higher education that works for the Sahel region.”

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