HIGH school graduates in South Africa and the rest of the continent will soon have an additional university choice as a network of 25 pan-African universities, aimed to rival the likes of Harvard and Yale, is due to come on stream.

The first campus will open in Mauritius next year, says Fred Swaniker, co-founder of the Joburg-based African Leadership Academy (ALA), a high school that takes in talented but deprived students from across the continent. About 15% of pupils at ALA are from South Africa.

Mr Swaniker is also the founder of African Leadership Unleashed (ALU), a network of universities that aims to produce the future leaders required on the continent.

Equity Bank Kenya is supporting the next campus to be set up in Kenya, with other campuses due in Nigeria and Morocco.

Coca-cola, IBM, Boston Consulting Group and Standard Chartered Bank, among other companies, have partnered with ALU to fund the students who will attend the university in Mauritius.

Lack of funding in South Africa

ALU is looking to broaden the success of ALA, where more than 80% of graduates go on to study at universities overseas such as Harvard, Yale and Duke. Mr Swaniker said most students at ALA had to go to universities abroad due to a lack of funding for foreign students’ tertiary studies within South Africa.

A talented student from the Democratic Republic of Congo was more likely to get a scholarship from Harvard or Yale universities than the University of Cape Town or Wits, Mr Swaniker said.

Each ALU university, which costs about $100m to start up, will be technology-focused with students taught via hi-tech e-learning material and peer-to-peer interaction. This would cut down the need for faculty staff, who could be very costly, Mr Swaniker said.

The model for the institution is being piloted in South Africa at ALA with students from all over the continent. “We want to completely reinvent what universities look like. Building universities on the old model, with expensive faculty, will take too long,” Mr Swaniker said.

Simon Lebus, CEO of Cambridge Assessments, a part of Cambridge University, said the ALU e-learning model was a “fantastic way of democratising learning”, but some subjects may be more suited to this model than others.