Skills Revolution

Honoris United Universities seeks Western standard of education in new African markets

By David Whitehouse

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Posted on June 24, 2022 04:00

Egyptian student becomes a teacher for children during COVID-19
Egypt is seen as Africa’s most promising education market. Here, Reem El-Khouly, a 12-year-old girl, teaches children as schools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Atmida village in Dakahlia province. February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Africa’s largest private higher education network Honoris United Universities plans to expand in Egypt, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, Chief Growth and Strategy Officer Laura Kakon tells The Africa Report.

The company aims to enter the new markets within the next year, Kakon says at the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan. The goal is to extend access to “a Western standard education in Africa,” she says.

African universities are seeking to embrace online learning after Covid-19 disrupted face-to-face teaching and travel bans curbed student mobility. According to the OECD, only 29% of African higher education institutions were able to quickly move teaching and learning online, compared with 85% in Europe. The OECD says that African higher education needs to accelerate the digitisation of curricula and establish a culture of online training and distance education.

Honoris, majority-owned by the Actis investment firm, operates in 10 countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria and South Africa. It offers a mixture of online and campus-based learning, and has 61,000 students. Courses include work placements in fields such as medicine, health sciences, information technology and business law.

The aim, Kakon says, is to provide “employability-oriented” courses that create “human capital which is relevant for Africa.” About 80% of students get a paid job within three months of completing a course, and former students now work for companies including Dangote, Standard Bank, Orange and Deloitte, she says.

  • The company, led by CEO Jonathan Louw, is considering expanding its presence in Nigeria and South Africa, where it is established in Abuja and Durban.
  • Honoris bought Nile University of Nigeria in 2020. Lagos is now under consideration for expansion, Kakon says.
  • Honoris is also looking for other universities to join its network, she adds.

Egypt’s potential

In December, Honoris announced an agreement to acquire Merit University, a private university in New Sohag city in Egypt. The country is Africa’s largest higher education market with over 3 million enrolled students. Egypt, according to the SCImago platform,  is the top producer of peer-reviewed journal publications in Africa, and stands in 30th position globally.

Some have questioned the amount of value really added by Egyptian universities. Marwa Mamdouh-Salem, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, writes that Egyptian higher education has been criticised as inefficient and has made only a “modest” contribution to employability.

Merit was set up in 2019 by presidential decree. It is the only private university in the Sohag Governorate, and currently offers medicine, pharmacy and physiotherapy. Honoris intends to use the Merit purchase to focus on STEM  subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

  • Honoris says that the process of Merit joining the network continues and is due to complete soon. “We recognise Egypt’s value and potential as one of the largest education markets in Africa,” and more announcements will follow the Merit completion,” a spokesman for the company said.
  • Kakon, one of the Honoris co-founders, is confident that the company can match Western standards of higher education. “We have a responsibility in promoting the opportunities which Africa provides to young people,” she says.

Bottom line

Honoris believes that Africans can achieve a Western standard education without leaving the continent.

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