He’s engaged in an ambitious project to develop three million young African graduates who he says will lead the transformation of the continent. He’s announced plans to build twenty-five universities across Africa, each with ten thousand students, as part of his vision to create a new generation of young African leaders. His track record is good. He has already opened his first university in Mauritius and the second will open in Rwanda in September, first as a business school and then as a full campus offering a wide range of courses relevant to meeting Africa’s challenges.
He says: “Good leaders do not fall from the sky. The experience of successful nations, the world over, emphatically points to the centrality of strong education institutions, and particularly robust higher education systems in deliberately training the leaders who take societies to great heights.
“The glue that cements all this together is good leadership. Therefore, there is an indisputable imperative to build a new generation of dynamic leaders with the skills to be effective and with the values to ensure the socio-economic transformation of the continent.”
Students who wish to become part of this opportunity must demonstrate that their mission in life is tackling Africa’s challenges. Mr Swaniker identifies these as how to meet the challenge of urbanisation in Africa, how to tackle poverty and create millions of jobs, how to combat climate change, shortfalls in healthcare, power and education, and how to develop good governance.
He argues that as 45% of Africa’s graduates Leave University without jobs there is something wrong with how young people are being trained for the future.”Universities are not creating the skills employers went so our African Leadership university network will prepare graduates for the twenty-first century and train them to meet and solve Africa’s challenges.” he says:
“By 2030, a bulk of the world’s workforce will live in Africa. Already, experts project that at current rates, Africa’s population will snowball to 2.5 billion by 2050, which should translate to a demographic dividend which will feed the continent’s growth. Yet it is clear that without certain investments in policy and education, this dividend along with the benefits of hosting the world’s workforce will remain elusive”.
To meet this key demographic challenge a key part of the curriculum will be providing entrepreneurial skills so the young people can develop start-ups and create jobs for Africa’s coming demographic explosion. They will have hands-on internships as part of their course where they will work with companies like IBM developing leadership and problem-solving skills.
This vision to train three million young leaders is a massive undertaking but Mr Swaniker believes it is vital if Africa is to catch up with the rest of the world and then forge ahead. “We live or die on the quality of our leadership. We need to grow self-belief and self-confidence in this new generation if we are to transform Africa”. And he says that the stakes are high because the current state of higher education across the continent is a real threat to the dream of an African Century.
“Access to university education is limited for many. For perspective, Africa’s tertiary enrollment rate today stands at an average of 7%. The American tertiary enrollment rate is just over 72%, while China’s sits at about 30%. This means even if Africa builds 200 new Harvard-sized universities each year for the next 15 years, it still will not close its prevailing skills gaps with India, and will have barely impacted the lot of its young population. Which is poignant if you consider that 70% of the global labour force in 2050 will be African. At the same time, the workload for teaching staff is unsustainable, with lecturers having to teach classes of up to 500 students. It is a system at breaking point.”
He admits his plan aren’t a silver bullet – he says he needs many others to share in his dream- but he’s convinced that his students from fifty African countries will have the ability to leapfrog over the inadequate education systems of the past and establish his African Leadership Network as one of the best universities in the world.
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