Higher education, international development, capacity building, Africa, Rwanda, Academics Without Borders


The author spent five months in Rwanda as a Strategic Advisor to the Ministry of Education’s Task Force for creating a single national university by amalgamating the existing seven public institutions of higher education located in various regions of the country, and in this article he outlines some of the main lessons learned during that engagement. After providing the contextual background for the project and his engagement by Academics without Borders to undertake it, he summarizes the main outcomes of that work. He then identifies the first lesson learned from this experience as ‘conventional wisdom needs to be applied with pragmatic realism’, particularly when interpreting the fundamental principles of academic freedom, institutional autonomy and participative decision-making. Secondly, he learned that ‘managing expectations can be devilishly difficult’; and finally, it became clear that ‘one should not undertake this kind of work without a local “champion” in place’. The article concludes with the author’s main impressions of Rwanda and its people.



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  • Academics Without Borders:
  • Association of Commonwealth Universities:
  • Higher education in Africa:
  • Rankings of African universities:
  • Rwanda:,
  • Salmi, J. (2009) The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities. The World Bank.
  • University of Rwanda: