By Sam Otti
Dinesh Shukla, the President, American International University (West Africa), wants to empty his pocket for Africa. He hopes to give free education to over 5000 students in the continent every year. His passion for quality education in the continent led to the establishment of the American International University in The Gambia in 2011, which had rapidly grown into three functional campuses within four years.
A proof of Shukla’s eagerness to give Africans the best could be seen in the physical development at the permanent site of the institution, where $50m edifice had been completed. Like a journey of 1000 miles, his desire to light up the dark African continent began with scholarships awarded to 10 victims of Boko Haram in Maiduguri, Borno State. He also granted 50% scholarship on tuition to 35 Nigerian students studying in the university.
Shukla, who was in Lagos recently, excitedly told Campus Sun that in the next five years, the university would be able to educate all African students for free. He has already started walking his talk. With the tuition of the American International University pegged at less than $10,000, he is one step closer to this dream. In spite of high cost of education globally, he has promised to bring respite to hundreds of African students in need of world-class education at highly subsidized rates.
“Don’t get me wrong. I need money, but not from students. I can get a lot of money if I know that I am producing high quality professionals that can help to bring up the continent. I don’t need government’s help. I don’t need the students’ help,” he said.
Shukla said the huge potentials in human and natural resources in Africa can only be optimally utilized with a scaled-up investment in education. He expressed joy that the seed of hope had been sown in native African soil, as American International University provides quality education at reasonable cost.
“It is not just American education. We follow the American curriculum. The students write American exams and they get the same certificates, which they would have obtained if they were studying in the United States”, he said.
When Campus Sun drew his attention to the existence of American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, which offers American-based education on African soil, Shukla clearly explained that the American International University has no rival, but rather specializes in medical education. The vision of the university, he said, was to train, in the spirit of collegiality and with a standard of excellence, outstanding clinicians and humane leaders in medicine and science. The university, according to him, runs medical programmes in six colleges: medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, with cutting edge technology that would make their graduates employable in relevant fields.
Shukla said the university was committed to the promotion of human health, emphasizes rigorous fundamentals of health sciences by stimulating innovation through education in a dynamic learning environment and wishes to contribute to the advancement of medical sciences through discovery, research, scholarship and communications.
“We are the only American International University in Africa to give medical education at the level of Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Dentistry. Those students go through the same medical curriculum as in United States”, he explained.
He said students studying in Yale University or Harvard University would write the same exams that American International University, West Africa, gives to her own students. According to him, the students would get the same degree, but from different locations.
He pledged commitment to academic excellence, noting that some of the African students that were sent to United States for some courses, came back with excellent reports. He said the university also established College of Management and Information Technology to bring 21st century education to the doorsteps of African students.
“We are also collaborating with world laboratories throught the world. We are collaborating with the Centre for Disease Control (CDS) in United States. CDS wants to build a permanent lab here so that they can help in case of emergencies that occurred last year, like the Ebola Virus. They are funding it. We never worry about money”, he disclosed.
When Campus Sun asked why they chose Gambia instead of Nigeria that has the highest education market in Africa, and and a population of over 170 million people, Shukla said he was surprised when the lot fell on Gambia, a lot which came after a meticulous survey conducted before the establishment of the university.
“Establishing a modern university with state-of-the-art facilities is a very, very expensive affair. We selected Gambia because it offers security and peace,” he said. “That is what is required for education. Gambia is a small country but very secured. We enjoy the safety of our faculty; safety of our students is our priority before anything else. We already have students from Nigeria. We have 300 students from Nigeria, out of a population of 600.”
A quick glance at the online application data of the school revealed that Nigerian students are already flocking to the institution. For instance, as at Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 5,326 students from Nigeria are already queuing up for admission while only 859 applied from the host country, Gambia, with 396 applications coming from Ghana. Ethiopia had 235 applications. Aside students from 17 countries already in the school, several others from different parts of the world are on the waiting list to study in the university.
“We want to showcase what Africa can offer”, Shukla said excitedly. “On the average, we get 2000 to 3000 applications for 50 or 60 seats. We limit the intake primarily because our focus is to produce quality rather than quantity”.
Although the university has subsidized the tuition fee, Shukla insists that the quality of education offered in American International University would produce top students that would make the world proud.
“We don’t need too many people. But we need few quality students who are going to make impact throughout their lives. Money is very important, especially when it is in short supply. Medical education is very, very expensive. If you go to study in the United States, the average cost for medical education ranges from $70,000 to $100,000. But here, the cost is under $10,000 and that includes accommodation,feeding, tuition, transportation, books and other miscellaneous,” he concluded.
By his investment in knowledge, Shukla might not be named among the Forbes rich. But he is contented building a legacy that would outlive him. The recent graduation of 64 students by the university was the scorecard that he wanted the world to read. Out of the 64 graduates, 53 of them had already gotten jobs.
“Our focus is not getting students here to have a degree,” he informed. “We want them to be successful in life. We are the only university that gives academic qualification with professional certification. We can’t change the world but we can take a small step.”