The University of Liverpool is to develop a “series of collaborations” with higher education institutions in Rwanda.

The Rwandan Education Minister, Vincent Biruta, was joined by the Rwandan High Commissioner to the UK, Ernest Rwamucyo, and Rector of the National University, Professor Silas Lwakabamba, in a visit to the University for a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor.

The visit came after a trip made to Rwanda by Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation, Professor Michael Hoey, who toured a number of higher education institutions. As a result of the UK meeting, a ‘memorandum of understanding‘ was signed.

A shift in power from the Francophone government that oversaw the 1994 genocide, to the Anglophone administration that took its place, has seen a marked shift in Rwandan national language policy. As a result, it was confirmed in 2008 that all education would be switched from French to English, with business and integrative global interests cited as motivating factors behind the change.

However, the policy led to a number of problems, not least establishing a sufficient teaching force fluent in English. The University of Liverpool’s partnership is anticpated to “assist in this effort with the development of staff and student exchange programmes.” In addition, it is hoped that joint research partnerships may be developed, whilst similar Masters courses offered in Liverpool and in Rwanda could benefit from cross-institutional input.

Professor Hoey commented, “the [Rwandan] Government is investing heavily in its higher education infrastructure, with institutions like KIST [Kigali Institute of Science and Technology] establishing high profile partnerships with global leaders like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as [the] University of Liverpool.”

Rwanda has been seen as a recent African success story, with respectable economic growth and marked progress towards meeting its Millennium Development Goals. However, there has been concern over the fossilisation of power around the President, Paul Kagame, who has been accused of purging government of non-preferred members, and has closed down newspapers and banned opposition political parties. Nevertheless, he and his regime have remained popular in the West, with the UK Department for International Development committing to spend £83 million per year on Rwanda until 2015.

Given UK financial support, Rwanda’s switch to English and its subsequent acceptance into the Commonwealth, it is unsurprising that British universities are seeking out educational collaborations. However, in light of the still fragile social and political environment, the signing of the memorandum is a bold move, to be carefully managed in the coming months.