A Ghanaian-born Canadian university professor feels that the millions of dollars that MasterCard is investing in a $500 million global initiative to educate and develop next-generation African leaders could be better spent on strengthening local institutions on the continent to train future leaders.
The University of Toronto, McGill University and the University of British Columbia have collaborated with the MasterCard Foundation to select bright and motivated students from economically challenged African communities to come to Canada over the next decade.
Nearly 270 African students will have the opportunity to secure a Canadian education so they can return to the continent and lead meaningful change in their communities. The program will pay for the students’ tuition and living expenses, provide mentorship and establish internship opportunities for them in Africa.
“This is an interesting initiative,” said Dr. George Dei, who is a professor in the department of sociology and equity studies in education at U of T. “No one in their right mind will deny the value and importance of an initiative to provide education to young learners. Of course, university education is not the only education. But we also want more and more African youth to receive university education and to be among the great thinkers, sharp minds and creators in society contributing to building healthy and sustainable communities.
“We cannot downplay the opportunities that such a program offers, but does Africa really need more development through overseas university education? I ask this question and raise many others simply to guide the future pursuit and direction of this initiative. For example, there are notions of Western elitism and the privileging of educational training received abroad over, for instance, the strengthening of local schools that have been hit by structural adjustment programs and government cuts. So imagine what that kind of money can do for human advancement for all people if local schools in Africa are supported by this program?
“Can’t we give Africa’s brightest more student opportunities at home instead of sending them overseas to study in institutions that were not designed to support local infrastructure, economies and industries in Africa? Why do our kids have to travel so far for education and how can we ensure that this program will not further contribute to the brain drain in Africa?”
Dr. Dei, who received his doctorate from the U of T in 1986, also shared some ideas about the kind of education he would like to see the students receive in Canadian universities.
“It must be education that is critical of the global conditions and the unequal power relations that have existed to great unequal advantages and privilege among nations of a global community,” he said. “It must be education that seriously acknowledges Africa’s contribution to global humanity and the presentation of Africa in perpetual crisis, a basket case and always with a cup in hand begging for help. We also need to be mindful of a business-minded approach to education driven by profits more than concerns of social responsibility. I am confident that the MasterCard Foundation is driven more by social citizenship as opposed to profit motivation.”
Almost 430 students from 31 African countries are currently enrolled at the U of T.
As one of the program’s 15 university and secondary education partners from around the world, the U of T will receive $22.5 million for its participation. The partners were selected based on their academic excellence, nurturing environments and programs relevant to economic growth sectors in Africa.
“We have all seen Asia blossom on the world stage,” said U of T president, David Naylor. “Now, as the visionaries at the MasterCard Foundation have seen, it’s Africa’s turn. That’s why I am so pleased that the University of Toronto will be participating in the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program that help us recruit some of the best and brightest students in Africa. These young leaders will not only play a part in the ongoing rise of Africa. They will be bridge-builders between the continent and Africa.”
Under the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, an estimated 15,000 next-generation African leaders will be educated and developed to contribute to social transformation across the continent.
“The U of T, McGill and the University of British Columbia bring tremendous expertise to our vision,” said MasterCard Foundation president and chief executive officer, Reeta Roy. “The diversity and excellence of their institutions will offer scholars and extraordinary opportunity for learning and exchange of knowledge.”
A total of 67 undergraduate students will come to the U of T in the next five years to study Arts and Science or Engineering at the St. George campus.