Any discussion on higher education in Rwanda should begin with a review of the goals of Vision 2020: the extremely ambitious national development plan that Rwanda launched a decade ago. By 2020, Rwanda hopes:
* be a middle-income country (GDP per capita is $ 900);
* developing a knowledge-based economy with a strong service and industrial base;
* reducing the country's dependence on foreign aid; and
* radically reduce poverty.
In order to achieve these objectives, Rwanda needs a rapid increase in the number of its citizens who are trained professionals. The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, noted that " the basis of any modern society is a healthy, educated, skilled and economically active population.- That is why Rwanda has made serious efforts to develop its intellectual capital through education. These actions include a number of different elements, including universal primary education and an increase in the number of pupils in secondary schools, as well as a greater emphasis on women's education. However, it is most important for the Rwandan generation to increase Rwanda's focus on improving the quality and quantity of affordable higher education.
Since 1994, higher education in Rwanda has changed dramatically. Whereas before, there was only one university – the National University of Rwanda – today there are six public universities and seven accredited private universities. There are approximately 45,000 university students currently in Rwanda; prior to 1994, there were only approximately 5,000 university students in the country. The number of students graduating from Rwandan universities each year is now nearly four times the sum total of all Rwandan university students who graduated between 1963 and 1994.
In addition to creating new universities, the Rwandan government has also sought to promote the quality of higher education by establishing a National Council of Higher Education, which reviews the nation’s universities. While each public university has a different mission, the goal for each university is to build the workforce that will help Rwanda achieve the goals it has set for itself in the Vision 2020 plan. Rwanda needs new lawyers, engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and accountants – there is a labor shortage in almost every professional field – and the universities exist in order to fill the gap.
Unfortunately, not all Rwandan students have the same ability to access a university education. According to a World Bank report, students from the wealthiest 20% of the nation were more than 30 times more likely to attend university than those in the poorest 40%. Women continue to represent a minority of university students; recent figures suggest that only 35-40% of Rwandan university students are women. For the vast majority of very poor students – especially orphans and vulnerable young people – university tuition is well out of reach. There are approximately 825,000 orphans in Rwanda and, according to the World Bank, “Orphans [in Rwanda] have few or no means to invest in their schooling.”
It is this lack of access to university education for highly talented orphans and socially vulnerable young people that Generation Rwanda exists to address.