Powering Pan-African Digital Education

Luis Lopez, CEO of Honoris United Universities, talks about new ventures and the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by: Marcus Kääpä 



African education sees the highest rate of exclusion than any other area of the world. Over one in every five children (ages six to 11) are out of school, and one third of young learners between the ages of 12 and 14 are not involved in academic learning. 

There are several factors that contribute to this level of exclusion. A basic example is the lower income on average per family in comparison to other areas of the world – a factor that naturally pushes forward a career and working attitude rather than that of continued education. 

On the contrary, African higher education (in countries such as Ethiopia for example) has been expanding. 

Honoris United Universities is the first private pan-African higher education network and has been preparing and educating the next generation of African leaders and professionals since 2017. 

Alongside various institutions, such as Red & Yellow Creative School of Business – that has been an integral part of the creativity and media sector in South Africa for 25 years – Honoris provides aspiring students with the teaching and opportunities to reach the summit of their aims and achievements.

Honoris’s CEO, Luis Lopez, has had the privilege of working for the network since its inception, and answers our questions regarding the industry and the network’s part within it. 

Africa Outlook (AFO): Tell us about your career and how you became interested in the education sector.

Luis Lopez (LL): Before Honoris, I partnered with a mentor to attempt a start-up agri-business. Prior to this entrepreneurial window, I worked in leadership roles at Laureate International Universities, building the network over 13 years across the globe. That experience as an entrepreneur, and the period building an international education organisation, led me to Honoris.
 
It was during my time at Laureate that I accumulated a broad exposure to post-secondary education, especially in growth markets. I was particularly drawn to Honoris because of its pioneering pan-African vision and the tangible commitment its founders displayed to preparing and educating the next generation for future challenges and opportunities at home, regionally, and on the global stage.
 
I was further motivated by the potential to establish the organization’s core values of collaborative intelligence, agility, and mobility. The idea being that these values, together with the underlying formal and “real world” learning, lead to a cross-border, multicultural academic and professional experience, shared across Honoris, and this prepares our students, graduates, and their communities.
 
I am a strong believer in the transformative nature of learning and education, from the level of the individual to helping build the nation. Having had the opportunity to live education in various settings, from my own path to the professional stage, I continue to be optimistic about its merits and future expressions, particularly with the advent of advanced technologies.
 
AFO: What is your view on the provision of higher education in Africa currently?

LL: Higher Education is moving through a very exciting, rapidly evolving, and challenging period. The continent faces the well documented youth demographic boom, which is as much of a challenge as it is an opportunity.

The answer to this is to enable enterprise through the nurturing of an innovation ecosystem. Simply put, this requires the development of a population that has the skills needed to leave education, set up a business, develop new products or services, compete globally, adapt to sudden changes and survive in the digital economy.

These factors make working in education exciting, but they are also a matter of urgency, which is why Honoris is so committed to widening access to as many young people as possible. 

We’re doing this through the provision of affordable, on-campus and remote learning higher education opportunities that will equip graduates with the 21st century workplace skills they will need when they enter the new world of work as employee, entrepreneurs, freelancers, or otherwise.  
 
AFO: How has COVID-19 affected the industry, and how critical is virtual learning in light of the pandemic?

LL: COVID-19 has catapulted a variety of matters into our sphere. One of the most important items is the characterization of connectivity (internet, digital access) as an essential good.

We’re living in a moment in history where a huge percentage of schooling is taking place virtually. For those who do not have access to reliable and affordable data and connections, this is an impossibly difficult period of educational exclusion.

There is a temporary challenge of proximity, yet face-to-face, real world collaboration is critically important in the development of a curious, solutions-oriented mobile mindset together with strong emotional skills.

Despite this lack of face-to-face learning, we are seeing other developments such as the emergence of virtual hubs, which have begun to evolve as youth are forced by circumstance to come together digitally. This goes hand in hand with the critical skills needed to compete in today’s job market.

AFO: What will Red & Yellow Creative School of Business bring to your network? Why are you excited to have them on board?

LL: The addition of Red & Yellow to the Honoris network further reaffirms Honoris’s position as the preeminent pan-African private higher education network focused on educating the next generation.

Red & Yellow brings particular expertise in Creative and Design Thinking, Creative Production, Marketing, Advertising and Communications, Management and Leadership – as well as Human Skills and Behavioural Science – and it has trained business leaders who have achieved remarkable career success, across the continent and internationally.

It’s exciting to have them join the network, particularly because Red & Yellow’s pedagogy encourages the ability to think differently, challenge accepted wisdoms, and apply creative problem solving to today’s complex work environment – a timely and relevant academic model for the most in demand skills of today and tomorrow.
 
AFO: Looking towards the future, what are the priorities for Honoris? 
 
LL: We will continue to focus on further enhancing the employability of our students by equipping them with the most in-demand software and digital skills required to thrive and be competitive in the modern world of work.

Our most recent development in this area is a unique program called the 21st Century Skills Certificate, which requires the completion of a fully online, 100 to 120-hour programme that is mandatory for all students across the network. 
 
It leverages our unique collaborative intelligence model and digital skills training, to impart the eight most demanded skills by employers for the future of work: behavioural intelligence, critical and creative thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, digital literacy, data analysis, and entrepreneurship.
 
This certificate will be issued via blockchain. The blockchain technology ensures that students have a life-long shareable access to their verified certificates and micro-credentials for employers as well as for professional networks.
 
These employability, digital, and skill-based initiatives reflect Honoris’ commitment to embracing the digital transformation across the student journey, and our strategy to reshape and rethink education to continually improve learning outcomes across the continent.
 
As for Honoris itself, we are also continuing to explore opportunities to expand the network in Africa as part of our mission to provide Education for Impact across the continent. On top of our established presences in Morocco and Tunisia, we are planning to expand into Egypt, Kenya, and Ivory Coast in the future.