Last week the cabinet approved the accreditation of Kepler College as a fully-fledged higher learning institution in Rwanda.
The New Times’ Alice Kagin talked to Bayile Damtie YeshitaVice-Chancellor of Kepler, to discuss what the new development means in terms of the education system and quality of learning materials offered.
What was the previous status of the institution before being accredited in Rwanda and what does it mean now?
We are very happy that we got accreditation to be Kepler College.
Before that, we had been partnering with Southern New Hampshire University using their online modules to get a degree from the United States, and then we offer our foundation programs which are designed within the context of the labor market in Rwanda to make our students employable here .
Now, this accreditation will give us the flexibility and a new choice to offer our own degree which will be fully contextualized, driven by the labor market in Rwanda and beyond.
Is the new accreditation likely to see adjustment of courses, modules, as well as employment focus for learners?
We have consulted key players in the Rwandan labor market about the skill sets needed and the kind of program we need to open as the first starting point.
So, the study that we carried out was based on our expertise in the interface between management and technology, and from there, project management stood out as the first program that we will roll out this year.
Unlike the traditional style of teaching, with our curriculum, students will be given case studies and projects to work on, if they solve them, it means they have acquired the competence and they move on to the next step.
It’s not the regular form of sitting for exams, they will be measured by the level of skill sets they demonstrate.
We hope that upon graduation, the students will be really needed as entry-level managers, office managers, project managers and financial managers, and so on.
We are also going to offer another program of Business Analytics, which is kind of combining the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with business. On one hand, the student will be able to learn key concepts and models of business and on the other, they will acquire statistical, mathematical, and computer programming skills they can use to analyze business trends.
We will as well open Innovation Management which is very much needed across different sectors.
What is the current student capacity and courses offered?
Right now, in both Kigali and Kiziba campuses we have about 500 students pursuing their undergraduate degrees, however, we are going to have about 900 students with Rwanda Polytechnic that will be offering graduate employment program starting from May, this year.
In Ethiopia, we also have about 160 students taking graduate employment programs in partnership with two TVET schools.
What exists now is an undergraduate degree program that is offered in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. They include business management and Healthcare management.
What we do for our students to get this US degree is to train them with key competencies that are needed in the labor market, which we call a foundation program that starts in three levels in addition to the modules provided by the University.
We also provide them with career services in terms of helping them to find internships and jobs based on their skill sets.
We also have a graduate employment program in partnership with Rwanda Polytechnic. They offer them vocational education and we offer them soft skills in communication, technology, and professionalism that help them behave efficiency during their internships to increase their chances of turning into employment.
Some employers have cited that local universities are yet to update their courses and programs to improve employability of graduates, what’s your approach to addressing the challenge?
Education is a dynamic and continuous feedback loop system. Employers and stakeholders need to engage with higher learning institutions to give feedback about the quality of the graduates.
When institutions send them graduates for internships, they should understand that this is shaping the future generation, a nation. They must pay attention to how these interns are doing, and what are the missing skills and immediately give feedback.
Understanding the dynamic of work is very complex, employers are the ones to see real practice on a daily basis and we, at Kepler, will be inviting employers to interact and give specialized lectures to our students.
I cannot tell them to sit back and relax that there is a competency-based institution established to fix the problem, no, they are part of the solution by pushing us to a higher level.
Higher learning institutions’ quality is often known to attract international students, is this going to be the case for Kepler?
At Kepler College, we are going to be for international students and we are open hoping that this will be an exciting programme.
We have institutions that we are partnering with in the region, so, we will also have student exchange.
Financing higher learning in private institutions is a challenge across the continent, what is Kepler’s model to ensure that education is inclusive with those who may not be able to afford it off-pocket?
Private institutions have a sustainability challenge that is mainly driven by quality and cost. For Kepler, the key driver of our success is employment outcomes.
First, our quality of education is measured primarily by employment outcomes. 90 per cent of our graduates should continue to get jobs within six months.
For those who can’t afford the minimum tuition that we have, there is an innovative financial inclusion model called ‘an income share agreement’. It means that students can sign the agreement to pay the tuition fee after they get a job based on installations without disturbing your living, if they don’t get one we don’t ask them.
We continue to also attract philanthropy to provide scholarships for some who really need them.
What is your monitoring approach to ensure that they pay the tuition fees after they get the jobs?
Right now, we have more than 620 graduates and we follow up on them as we have their contacts. We have the alumni forum that helps us to be in contact with them and our career department is very dynamic, they engage with them on a regular basis.
We are exploring different ways of doing this at scale through the system to track the employment outcome.