This initiative is part of the 2015-16 WISE Accelerator Cohort.
About the initiative
Kepler is creating a new kind of African university: low cost, high quality, and scalable across the continent. Its curriculum is designed to deliver the skills that African students need for a price that all young people with talent can afford—regardless of economic background. Kepler is able to accomplish this by combining world-class online learning with in-person seminars and intensive education-to-employment support, leading to a US-accredited degree for all graduates.
Context and Issue
As Africa’s 200 million young people begin to reach adulthood, they face a common challenge: many cannot transition from secondary school to productive employment. With a population growing more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, the scale of young people at risk makes the education-to-employment crisis one of the defining issues facing the continent today. Without a dramatic improvement in both quality and accessibility in Africa’s higher education system, larger poverty reduction goals will remain difficult, while millions of young secondary school graduates are met by unemployment and a lifetime of diminished productivity and expectations.
At the same time, employers across Africa are confronted by a lack of human capital to fill positions that require skilled knowledge workers. Local universities, largely inaccessible to all but the elite, lack the capacity to train a sufficient quantity of engineers, programmers, statisticians, accountants, teachers, civil servants, and other skilled positions that represent the backbone of modern economies. Employers like MTN and Ecobank that are regional engines of growth are constrained in their expansion by the paucity of their talent pipelines. If countries such as Rwanda are to continue their impressive growth through modern service-based economies, their young people must have access to institutions that train them for relevant careers at a price that all talented and hard-working students can afford.
The Solution and Impact
Kepler has developed a model to address the youth employment crisis by simultaneously increasing the quality, affordability, and accessibility of higher education. The model overcomes the typical trade offs between those objectives by combining elements of leading education institutions around the world in a unique and mutually reinforcing way. The three core components of this model are:
World-class online content: Kepler curates and delivers courses from professors at the world’s leading universities through MOOCs, combined with competency-based projects.
Intensive in-person learning: With lecture and passive learning taken outside of the classroom, trained teachers at Kepler are using class time for pedagogical approaches that best improve twenty-first century skills. These methods will include discussion seminars, project-based learning, and frequent coaching and feedback.
Work-based learning: Kepler complements full-time classroom instruction with extensive on-the-job learning. This will enable students to directly apply concepts they are learning to real-world situations, gain practical work experience before graduating, and benefit from hands-on support as they make the education-to-employment transition.
Kepler aims to expand access to higher education not just in Rwanda, but also at campuses across Africa. The gap between human potential and the opportunity to realize it through continuing education is enormous across the continent, most particularly in nations that have been through conflict and those that do not have the resources to build functional traditional universities.
In just three years, Kepler’s student body has soared to more than 400 on 2 campuses and data shows that our blended learning model that is sensitive to labor market needs is working! Of the inaugural class, 98% completed their Associate of Arts degree in under two years and more than half will earn their Bachelor’s degrees in less than three years. All Kepler graduates are fully employed and many current students have had their Kepler internships turn into job offers. Through Kepler’s partnership with the innovative College for America (CfA) program from the University of Southern New Hampshire, students receive US accredited degrees without having to leave Rwanda and are able to balance work and studies in their final semesters due to the competency based, self-paced learning approach of CfA.
Kepler students come from Rwanda, Eastern DRC, Burundi and Uganda and largely share similar backgrounds—vulnerable populations that would struggle to pursue higher education in private universities or without scholarship support. To increase financial sustainability while ensuring increased access to quality higher education, Kepler is partnering with micro finance institutions and regional banks to develop an affordable student lending mechanism for its students. Kepler has kept its commitment to ensure that 50% of the Kigali student population is female—a ratio far above other schools in the region.
In October 2015, Kepler launched a satellite campus at the Kiziba Refugee Camp in western Rwanda providing refugees with unprecedented access to higher education in partnership with UNHCR, MIDIMAR and College for America.