View Full Version : Local Options help slow Africa's Brain Drain

3rd January 2012, 12:05 AM
LONDON — When Kessewaa Brown, an official at Standard Chartered Bank in Accra, Ghana, decided she wanted to go back to school to improve her career prospects, her options were limited.

“I have two kids. My youngest is still living at home, and so I needed a program where I didn't have to quit my job or leave my family,” she said.

Like many professionals in Africa, she considered enrolling in a remote program for a degree from a British or American university. However, she worried about the lack of human interaction. “It's different when you have the professor right in front of you, and you are able to debate the issues,” she said.

Abiodun Afinowi, a Nigerian management consultant based in Lagos, said that after two degrees from local universities he was looking for a program with a more global reputation. But he, too, was reluctant to leave his business. “I can't afford to take a year or two to study in the U.S.,” he said.

Instead, both Ms. Brown and Mr. Afinowi joined the first class of students on a new executive M.B.A. program offered by Ceibs, the China Europe International Business School, at its campus in Accra, graduating in December 2010. Founded as a joint venture by the European Commission, the Chinese ministry of foreign trade, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Ceibs quickly became one of the most highly regarded business schools in the world.

“Our alumni oversee about 5 percent of China's Gross Domestic Product,” said John Quelch, the school's dean.

A former associate dean at the Harvard Business School, Mr. Quelch, who also served as dean of the London Business School, was in Britain in December to collect an O.B.E. from Queen Elizabeth. “One of the purposes of Ceibs is to challenge American dominance,” he said in an interview during his visit.

Although there have been Western-backed universities in Africa before — the American University in Cairo dates to 1919 — most arose out of missionary impulses, a trend that continues with Daystar in Kenya, founded by American Protestant missionaries, and Strathmore, also in Kenya, whose founders were members of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei. The Ceibs program in Accra is completely secular, as is a new branch of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University that is set to open in Kigali, Rwanda, this month.

Offering master's degrees in engineering and information technology, the program has the backing of the government of Rwanda and the African Development Bank, which is hoping to use it as the model for a string of centers across the continent. As with the Ceibs program, which flies in faculty members from Shanghai and Beijing, students will study with Carnegie Mellon faculty. “We are offering Carnegie Mellon credits towards a Carnegie Mellon degree,” said Bruce Krogh, professor of electrical engineering and the new program's director.

Do such ambitious ventures portend the start of an academic scramble for Africa reminiscent of the rivalry between the great powers at the beginning of the past century? Alex Vines, head of Africa programs at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, thinks they might.

“Given the state of higher education in Africa, the huge growth in demand and a rapidly growing middle class, I think this is just the beginning,” he said. “There are state universities and private providers already there. But they can't guarantee either quality or the recognized status that students want. And you have to remember, Africa has the fastest-growing population of young people in the world.”

The Ceibs Web site is unabashed about the advantages of being “a 'first mover' in this uncharted region.” But Pedro Nueno, the president of Ceibs, said, “I don't think in Africa you can talk about competition. There's so much to be done.”

Postgraduate education in Africa today, he said, reminds him of “when I started in China in 1984 — there was no competition at all.”

The opportunity to be in at the start also appealed to Carnegie Mellon. Mr. Krogh, who will be moving from Pittsburgh to Kigali, said that while the initial class will be limited to 40 students, “we hope to ramp up fairly quickly to 150 students and a faculty of 15 based in Rwanda.”

The university has a 10-year contract with the Rwandan government, which has agreed to meet all the costs of the new venture, and to allow Carnegie Mellon total control over admissions and curriculum. Tuition will be the same as at Carnegie Mellon's other campuses, $37,800 a year, a figure Mr. Krogh described as “outrageously expensive for Africa.”