Inside Honoris: The first private pan-African higher education network

Honoris United Universities, also known as the first private pan-African higher education network, casts light on the continental challenges surrounding tertiary learning

Just one in 20 people of the relevant age group in Africa have access to higher education, five times less than the global average. This is a monumental problem.

Higher education is the gateway to many facets of sustainable development, and given the continent’s projected population growth (set to double to an unprecedented 2.4 billion by 2050), making effective and efficient use of its relatively untapped human resource base will be crucial in allowing the region to flourish.

“Local people are key to transforming the continent, and the youth are its most valuable asset,” states Luis Lopez.

“Africa is home to the world's youngest population and the working age demographic is estimated to grow by 70 percent to 450 million people by 2035. The mandate is clear – knowledge and skills are critical for sustainable social and economic development.”

A philanthropist by nature, Lopez is one individual acutely aware of the true power of education.

The bulk of his career and credentials can be found at Laureate International Universities, having helped to build what is now a global education network during a 13-year stint.

“It was during my time at Laureate that I accumulated a broad exposure to post-secondary education, especially in growth markets,” he recalls. “I am a strong believer in the transformative nature of learning, from the level of the individual to nation building.

“Because of this, I was particularly drawn to Honoris United Universities because of its pioneering pan-African vision, and the tangible commitment its founders display to preparing and educating the next generation of African leaders and professionals.”

Moving with the times

Now heading up this collaborative, agile organisation, renowned as the first private pan-African higher education network, as the CEO, Lopez is playing a leading role in attempting to address the ongoing challenges posed by a lack of advanced learning.

And Honoris’ active alignment with Agenda 2063 is a crucial part of those endeavours.

Within the framework laid out by the heads of state and governments of the African Union (comprising 55 member states), one of its goal is to promote future solutions-oriented leaders and professionals through the development of science, technology and innovation (STI) skills and soft skills.

“A skills-driven approach can buoy Africa’s youth potential to gain a competitive advantage in a complex, globalised, and increasingly digital jobs market,” Lopez states. “We have developed a pan-African immersion with world class academic and experiential learning to act as one catalyst in this framework.

“Moreover, Agenda 2063 points to the linear relationship between prosperity, high-quality economic growth and employment opportunities for all – especially women and youth.

“We are an important stakeholder in supporting this agenda and seek different avenues to do so, from the formal academic offer to high school leavers and working adults to supporting women’s leadership via WIA’s Project 54 in which we are the knowledge partner.

“In short, we seek to support and educate world-class African human capital able to transform the continent.”

Indeed, this combined emphasis on equality and critical subjects such as STEM is contributing towards the current development demands of the continent, equipping people from all backgrounds to become part of Africa’s self-sufficient aspirations.

And Honoris’ own curricular reflects such, recognising the need for a modernised, agile learning ecosystem.

“STEM cannot stand still – It is ever changing,” Lopez states. “As educators, we’re focused on helping African students tap into scientific inventions and discoveries that are being made right now, each and every day.

“Living through the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution, with automation, AI, fintech and the internet of things, our evolving world is becoming defined by digital or disruptive innovations.”

Inspired by a vision

Propelled by this approach, the organisation is taking great strides in meeting its mission of preparing future African innovators, most recently announcing plans to sponsor the continent’s leading young scientists via its partnership with the Council and Foundation for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

“Through its annual meetings in Germany with 600 of the brightest minds in the world and more than 50 Nobel Laureates, African scientists will be able to learn and contribute to cutting-edge thinking in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and economics,” Lopez affirms.

Honoris has also been successful in its efforts to empower women in particular – in Tunisia, for example, 62 percent of its student population is female.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, Honoris’ distance learning model has been reinforced with a wider geographical footprint, and in Morocco it has ensured that tuition levels reflect the household reality of families.

“We’re further proud of the fact that our campus sites in urban areas like Casablanca, Tunis and Johannesburg, are located right in the heart of the cities, making the learning environments accessible with respect to time, transportation and cost,” Lopez adds.

Just a handful of ways in which Honoris is striving to make a real difference to the education situation in Africa; its overriding vision speaks volumes of the size of the overall impact that it is looking to make.

“Through all these exciting projects, as well as through our continued growth, Honoris and its leaders have set an initial goal of impacting 100,000 students in Africa, each of whom has a family and community that will, in turn, be positively impacted,” Lopez affirms in what can only be described as a buoyant concluding statement.

“The people of Honoris share a profound belief in Africa’s future and its potential for human and economic development. It is why we are passionate about our network and education.

“We acknowledge the challenges that young people face in Africa but are optimistic that education will be the reason for leapfrogging ahead to a better future. And I’m incredibly proud of the individuals that we are supporting and advocating for.

“My vision for Honoris has always been that the impact we make and the ecosystem that we build assures success for our students, and the journey thus far has been inspiring in Honoris’ movement toward this vision.”