University of the People

University of the People: Revolutionizing Higher Education in Africa

Lead Organization

University of the People

Pasadena, California, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

UNESCO estimates by 2025, 98 million qualified global students will seek university seats that won’t exist. This gap is most urgent in Africa. Millions of Africans have no higher education alternative, especially women and other traditionally marginalized individuals. Those who do obtain degrees are ill-equipped to enter their national and global labor markets.UoPeople will offer the opportunity of higher education to one million Africans, focusing on women, while training and employing African faculty. UoPeople will prioritize retaining and graduating as many students as possible and conferring skills certificates to those who complete requisite coursework but stop-out. UoPeople’s educational model is replicable, scalable, and financially sustainable when at scale. Access to tertiary education will increase employment, individual earnings, and GDP across Africa. For women, education improves health and has higher ROIs than educating men. Higher education will change the lives of students, families, countries, the continent, and, ultimately, the world.

Problem Statement

Education is defined by the UN as a universal human right, but millions face severe obstacles in exercising this right. In Africa specifically, demand for higher education significantly outpaces the rate at which institutions are expanding. In Sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment in tertiary education lags far behind OECD members, as well as numerous developing nations. Higher education across Africa is severely limited by the number of available seats. In Nigeria alone, of the 1.5 million students who pass the annual university entrance exam, only 500,000 can secure existing places at universities.Even with sufficient seats, traditional universities cannot accommodate other would-be students for a variety of reasons. Due to societal and religious norms in many African countries, women are pointedly excluded from pursuing higher education. The enrollment rate of university-age women in Sub-Saharan Africa is a mere tenth of that of OECD member countries. Many others are deterred by prohibitive tuition fees and the opportunity cost of pursuing higher education.When students are enrolled in higher education institutions, they are faced with overcrowded classrooms and over-burdened teachers. Most alarming, however, is the finding that African graduates are ill-equipped for job markets. According to a survey of African employers of recent graduates, less than half of these graduates possessed the requisite skills for success in their new roles. Opening access to those previously excluded from higher education has wide-reaching impacts. Higher education, focused on producing students and graduates with in-demand skills, is the catalyst for empowering transformative development in Africa.

Solution Overview

Higher education has enormous impacts on a country’s economy, stability, and standard of living. Over the grant period, UoPeople will provide one million Africans, prioritizing women, access to postsecondary degrees offering in-demand skills. For women and others historically excluded from higher education, studying online removes most political, cultural, and accessibility issues of traditional education. UoPeople will further decrease its current ultra-low fees and implement a reduced-fee structure for African students.UoPeople’s solution will increase the number of employable workers in Africa through degree programs demanded by local job markets, as well as simultaneously training and employing African faculty. For students, the digital fluency and communication skills gained from online learning specifically enable them to contribute to the growing global online workforce. Similarly, for African faculty, UoPeople will facilitate their entry into the online economy through its training program.Through a rigorous mixed-methods implementation and evaluation study conducted by Ithaka, UoPeople will monitor and evaluate short- and medium-term progress and adjust accordingly. Progress will be assessed in regard to strengths, challenges, and outcomes in recruiting and enrolling African students in general and women specifically, as well as student completion of early foundational coursework, retention, credit accrual, demonstrated in-demand labor market skills, and graduation. The improvements made to UoPeople’s model will help to create, test and verify a sustainable model that can be replicated by governments, NGOs and other universities to resolve the crisis of higher education in Africa and globally. MacArthur 100&Change and UoPeople can transform the lives of millions globally.

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