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Africa University's enrollment rises as other schools struggle

 


Africa University's enrollment rises as other schools struggle

Feb. 25, 2004

A UMNS Report By Andra Stevens*

Early in a conversation with Nelly Bupe, one notices her quiet confidence.

The 20-year-old is a leader in her United Methodist youth group in Copperbelt, Zambia. The desire for a role in shaping how resources are used in her country brought her to Africa University.

"I came here because I wanted to do my degree in a specified period," Bupe says. "It's better than going to the national universities, where there are a lot of strikes and demonstrations."

In Zambia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent, state institutions are Africa University's main competition, and they're in trouble. At the University of Zimbabwe, for example, strikes and shutdowns meant no graduation for undergraduates last year.

Last spring, more than 4,000 students applied for admission to Africa University. Nearly 25 percent of the applications came from outside Zimbabwe and from new areas - Togo, Benin and Eritrea. These were record numbers for the university. It had planned to admit only 300 new students. Under pressure, it enrolled 400, and the total student population rose to just under 1,300.

Taking more students than planned means lecture rooms and dormitories are at capacity. Some areas, such as library, computer, food, water and sewage services, are barely coping. The university is adapting but feeling the strain.

Bupe is in the largest faculty (department), humanities and social sciences, which has 388 students. Business (351 students) and education (276 students) aren't far behind.

For her and first-year students, Africa University stands out. They talk about the quality of the facilities - classrooms, residence halls, library and laboratories - and about the beauty of the surroundings. But other factors have drawn them to the school too.

"This university gives people like me a chance to see their dreams come true, to reach their goals," says 23-year-old David Duncan.

When the Tanzanian learned that Africa University offers assistance to students who don't have the means to pay tuition, he applied and made his case for a scholarship. While awaiting an answer, he raised a few hundred dollars from relatives. Duncan was close to giving up before the university awarded him a $1,500 scholarship.

The chance to learn from faculty and alongside students from across Africa struck a chord with Nday Kabange Heritier from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He's thrilled to be in a learning environment with 25 countries represented and where 47 percent of the students are women.

That diversity - of languages, cultures, experiences, challenges and ideas - and its impact on learning are attracting new partners and collaborators to Africa University.

Last October, the United Nations Environment Program invited Africa University to its headquarters in Kenya for discussions on launching a comprehensive training program on environmental issues and challenges in Africa.

"This is the place where they want to offer that kind of training," says Fanuel Tagwira, the university's representative in the U.N. discussions, "because they see it radiating out to other countries and reaching more people through Africa University."

Relevance and impact are key elements of a new collaboration with the University of Fort Hare in South Africa focusing on educational leadership management and development. Africa University picked a community - the Chimanimani district, southeast of Mutare - and enrolled a group of parents, teachers, school administrators and local leaders.

Educational levels in the group range from eighth grade to undergraduate. Depending on what they started with, members of the group will earn certificates, diplomas, bachelor's and master's degrees.

"We are equipping people with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to be able to make change in the local community. ... It will have an impact not only on education but on families and on community life," says James Quarshie, dean of the faculty of education.

Africa University offers bachelor's and master's degree programs in agriculture, the arts and social sciences, business, education and theology. Academic and community service programs are also offered through the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance and its outreach office. The university launched its sixth faculty, health sciences, this year.

More information on the school is available by contacting the Africa University Development Office, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007; phone: (615) 340-7438; e-mail: audevoffice@gbhem.org.

*Stevens is a communications consultant and former director of information at Africa University. This article first appeared in the winter 2004 issue of Africa University Today, a newsletter jointly produced by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 or
newsdesk@umcom.org

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