Aga Khan University plans major new campus

Aga Khan University, the Pakistan-based international multi-site higher education institution, is planning to open a new campus in Arusha in northern Tanzania. The campus will house arts and science faculties and educate up to 3,000 students from across East Africa. Its aim will be to attract back to the region East African students who are studying abroad. Mohammed Yusuf reports.

The new campus will be the university’s fourth site in Tanzania, the rest being specialist units teaching nursing, medicine and education, located in the country’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

Dr Robert Armstrong, chief academic officer for Aga Khan University in East Africa, stressed that the project was part of a planned US$700 million expansion in East Africa, and that the campus would recruit students from across the region, notably from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

In particular, said Armstrong, growth of the university is designed to encourage East Africans to conduct their higher education studies in East Africa: “The university will target students from the region who are studying abroad,” he said. “And the university will be attractive enough to recruit those students back into the region.”

He added that the selection procedure will not be based on country quotas, but purely based on the qualities of the students applying from across East Africa. “We will have entry criteria that define students’ abilities; those criteria would be standard across the East African community.”

Also, where students had obvious talent but lacked adequate secondary education, “the university will work to identify students who need special preparations so that they can compete for positions at the university,” said Armstrong, who was previously head of the department of paediatrics at Canada’s University of British Columbia (BC) and chief of paediatric medicine at the BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital.

The Arusha campus development is in its planning phase. Preparation of land for construction is ongoing, but the actual facilities are nowhere near completed. University administration officials told University World News they expect this to happen in 2018.

The campus will be part of an extensive network of Aga Khan centres already operating in East Africa. The university also has campuses in Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

As well as the other Tanzania centres, it offers advanced nursing studies in Kenya and Uganda, aimed at improving nursing practice, patient care and providing nurses from both private and public hospitals an opportunity to further their careers.

It also operates postgraduate medical education programmes in Kenya that are supported by a 250-bed teaching hospital, the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.

A key issue going forward will be promoting mutual recognition of academic qualifications within East African countries. An official from the regional political organisation, the East African Community, said it had been working closely with the university on accreditation issues.

Armstrong noted that there is currently no common regional higher education accreditation system. “For now we are accredited by the individual country commissions. Eventually we hope to have an East African structure in place.”

A great deal of red tape regulates higher education institutions in the region. Kenya’s Commission for Higher Education (CHE), for instance, operates comprehensive controls over the adequacy and appropriateness of private institutions and programmes.

George Njine, senior assistant commission secretary for the CHE, said Aga Khan University was one of 10 private universities in Kenya operating with letters of interim authority, while it receives guidance and direction from the commission to prepare for the award of a university charter.

“The commission gives accreditation after a process of quality control and assurance,” he said. Inspections are undertaken before an institution and its programmes are recognised as meeting minimum acceptable standards, and these are based on pre-defined standards. The commission also makes sure a private university’s “quality is equal to the objective and goals as established by the institution,” he added.

Meanwhile, Aga Khan University seems to be generating a positive reputation.

Elijah Githinji Mwangi, who is pursuing a degree in nursing in Nairobi and is set to graduate next February, said he choose Aga Khan after seeing its graduates excel. Lucia Buyanza, who graduated with a bachelor degree in nursing and works with Kenya’s nursing council, said the university offered small classes, specialised learning and research with an emphasis on community service. “I must admit I really had a good learning environment.”

Armstrong said he hoped the university would offer quality education, producing students who were equipped to take a leadership role in East Africa’s professions and politics.

“We want to build a university that attracts students who are engaged in the community that they come from,” he said “We are not focused of the volume of students we can produce, but the quality of the students. Classes will be relatively small, engaging, focusing on social responsibility and opportunities to demonstrate leadership.

“That’s our philosophy,” he told University World News.

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