Kepler, a nonprofit university program based in Rwanda and designed for the needs of the developing world, is leveling the playing field for numerous young adults from underserved communities. At a cost of only $1,000 per year, Kepler’s fully accredited business degree program offers access to a combination of online courses from the world’s finest universities and intensive, in-person classroom discussion. Kepler’s pilot campus opened in 2013, and its flexible learning approach is already being praised not only in Rwanda but by educators around the world.
Rwanda, which was under German and Belgian colonial administration from the late 19th century into the second half of the 20th century, developed a European-style educational system. In 2008, the country designated English as the official language of instruction throughout its educational system. Universities had only begun to offer English as an instructional language in the 1990s. Previous generations of Rwandan university students had learned in French.
In a recent consolidation, the country’s public universities came together to form one system known as the University of Rwanda. Each formerly separate school is now a constituent college, dealing variously with science and technology, finance and economics, the arts, education, medicine, and agriculture. The country also offers three-year diplomas at nine public polytechnic schools.
Admission to Rwanda’s public higher education institutions, particularly those concentrating on law, medicine, and allied fields, is highly competitive. The nation’s private universities largely consist of institutions under the aegis of religious denominations, with the profits from tuition and fees channeled into each organization’s sectarian projects. In 2012, the government of Rwanda passed a law that, for the first time, required private universities to pay taxes on the income they take in.
While Rwanda’s government recently lowered tuition costs at public universities, the country still has a long way to go before higher education becomes widespread. Today, only about one-third of young people of high school age people enter secondary education programs, and a still smaller number go on to attend college.
Kepler points the way to a viable alternative to the Rwanda university system. Early results from Kepler’s pilot program suggest that its educational model offers significantly improved academic outcomes for students at a lower cost than traditional university options. Additionally, Kepler students graduate with a valuable degree from an American university, Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America. Finally, by partnering with Rwanda’s foremost companies and industries, Kepler is designed to help students secure well-paying jobs and contribute to the national economy.
An internationally accredited, affordable, competency-based degree, like that offered by Kepler, could represent the best hope that Rwanda’s current generation of well-qualified, but economically vulnerable young people, have of achieving their full potential.