Carnegie Mellon U. to Open “Campus” in Rwanda

A new venture in Africa for Carnegie Mellon – an unequivocal good?

A number of previous posts here have touched on differing approaches to internationalisation and branch campuses. The Chronicle carries this story about what looks, at first sight, like a terrific development:

Carnegie Mellon University plans to open a branch campus in Rwanda next year, making it one of the few American colleges offering degrees in Africa.

While a number of American universities work on the continent, often establishing partnerships with local institutions on research, faculty-training programs, and other educational ventures, Carnegie Mellon’s appears to be the largest commitment to date.

The Pittsburgh-based institution will be the first American university to operate a full-fledged campus in Africa, said Kevin Kinser, co-director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany, which tracks branch campuses worldwide.

“Africa is clearly an underserved region for international-branch campuses,” said Mr. Kinser, who is an associate professor in the university’s department of educational administration and policy studies. The continent’s educational needs are great, but the financing of large African programs is a challenge, he added.

So far so good. It is great that an excellent university like Carnegie Mellon is looking to develop such provision in Africa and in a country which really should benefit from this kind of development. But if the further details in the story are accurate, this is perhaps not quite all it seems:

For its part, Carnegie Mellon is receiving $95-million over 10 years from the Rwandan government to operate the program, which will start next year and initially offer master’s degrees in information technology and in electrical and computer engineering. The university expects to enroll 40 students at first, eventually expanding to 150 by 2017. It will seek to attract students from East Africa, with a preference given to Rwandans. The Rwandan government will offer scholarships for its citizens to pay for the program’s tuition and other costs.

$95 million is quite a lot of money to give to a university. In an African context it sounds like an enormous amount. And 150 Master’s students a year doesn’t really sound like a fully fledged branch campus. To be fair to Carnegie Mellon though, the story on its website does not describe the development as a branch campus, rather it suggests it will be a partnership with the Rwandan government to establish a ‘centre of excellence’.

It will be fascinating to see how this works out and whether other US or European universities follow this lead.

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