Nexford is building the Future of Higher Education

Nexford is building the Future of Higher Education
July 6, 2021 Peter Kisadha
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Since graduating top of his class, Joshua Adebayo has been working with a leading Nigerian bank. As an ambitious young man, he has always wanted to upgrade his academic credentials to increase the chances of getting a better job in Nigeria and globally.

According to the 2021 Financial Times’ Global MBA ranking, U.S. business schools dominate the provision of the world’s leading MBAs, making up half of the top 100. Additionally, in the 2021 edition of Best Global Universities, American institutions dominated the top 30. Findings like these only made it natural that Joshua prioritised a U.S. higher education.

Though he faced one significant challenge: by Nigerian standards, he earned a sizable and enviable salary yet left no room for savings good enough to allow him to pursue a U.S. higher education. That is why, throughout 2019 and 2020, he was buried in submitting one application after another, targeting U.S. universities and scholarship providers with no luck due to the stiff competition and limited slots. Until 2021, when his fortunes turned around.

Joshua received the news of a scholarship from a U.S. university that would cover his tuition, basic living expenses and a monthly stipend. In a few months, he will be leaving Nigeria and the banking job behind to pursue his MBA.

The quality of accessible higher education in Africa is inferior.

Joshua’s story is far too familiar in Nigeria, India, other parts of Africa and most of the emerging world. For example, about 13,000 Nigerians and more than 185,000 from India go to study in the U.S yearly through scholarships or self-financing. However, what is even more common is the millions that would like to have the same opportunity as Joshua to pursue higher education in the U.S. but can’t afford it.

The desire to pursue higher education in the U.S. is born out of the reality that Africa’s higher education system is broken. The university experience has not evolved and is stuck in the twentieth century. Students also have limited choices. They can either attend affordable, public universities with low-quality education, frequent strikes and oversubscribed classrooms. Or opt for higher-quality private universities with limited spaces and eye-watering tuition fees that only a few can afford it.

A quick look at Nigeria illustrates the three critical ways Africa’s current higher education model is broken.

Inaccessibility: Higher education is inaccessible to many because there is not enough space in physical universities for the number of potential students. This will only worsen as the young population reaches school age. In Nigeria alone, the population is set to double to 400 million by the year 2050. This predicament will also be replicated globally as the world population is expected to rise by 16% over the next ten years, with the increase concentrated in emerging economies. Consequently, UNESCO projects a global deficit of 100 million university seats by 2035.

For African countries mainly, to keep up with this demand, they will need to build ten universities a week, with each enrolling 10,000 students every week for the next 12 years. This is impossible. In Nigeria, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) reported in 2015 that out of 1.4 million university applications, only 400,000 were admitted to university due to capacity constraints. As the youth population grows, this gap will only widen.

Quality: For those who can get a seat at a local university, it is often not high-quality education. In Nigeria, the most accessible and affordable higher education is public universities, which are of inferior quality. They are plagued with issues such as inadequate infrastructure, obsolete curriculums and overcrowded classrooms.

One other common occurrence is the strikes held by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) due to unpaid wages or poor working conditions. Over the last 20 years, the Union has been on strike for 50 months, the longest lasting 13 consecutive months. In 2020, a year when the covid-19 pandemic disrupted higher education learning globally, Nigerian students still had to face a familiar foe: strikes. Public universities in the country were closed for nine months in 2020, and students were denied the alternatives available to others abroad – remote learning and so on.

Consequently, students could not take critical exams that would have allowed them to progress or complete their degrees. As a result, many students lost jobs or internship opportunities lined up, while others deferred.

Workplace skills: Nigerian graduates are at a disadvantage when entering the workforce because of the weak teaching standards. Universities do not teach real-world skills applicable in today’s job market. That is why students like Joshua in developing countries are increasingly seeking educational opportunities abroad. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of Nigerian students in the US doubled. And you can see why they would opt for this.

When these students return home, their foreign degrees provide an edge in Nigeria’s competitive labour market. For those that remained in domestic institutions, about half of these graduates remain unemployed. It is highly unfair to have to leave your country to get a fair shot at employment.

Despite all this, unfortunately, many people cannot afford alternative options such as private or going to international universities. Moreover, this is not an option for most people. Tuition in American universities is out of reach for most. It can cost up to $50,000 per year, and once you add in the cost of relocation, accommodation and general living expenses, you are looking at over $250,000 for a US degree. Hence the need for Nexford University.

The Future: Nexford University

Nexford University is an online university based in the US capital, Washington DC. They provide students with the opportunity to gain an affordable, world-class education that provides skills and experiences directly applicable in the working world, where they would not otherwise be able to.

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All Nexford courses are accessible online, meaning that there is no limit on the number of eligible students that can be admitted. Further to this, Nexford has monthly enrollment windows, not limited to one period in a year – missing one window does not mean that you have to wait another year to try again.

Some traditional universities have begun to develop online courses and degrees. But, when the incumbents do this, they often offer outdated learning models and techniques only in a digitised format. Nexford differentiates itself by developing backwards-designed curriculums, meaning the courses are designed by starting with the desired skill before working backwards to build the curriculum that imparts those skills.

Nexford builds out the curriculum with a focus on providing in-demand job skills by using AI and advanced data mining to extract data from several sources, such as job postings, employer surveys, professional associations, and research reports, to understand job trends, job skills, salary trends, tools, and technologies to inform their curriculum design. This ensures that the courses that Nexford offers are meeting market needs, and when Nexford students graduate, they are fully equipped for the labour market.

Lastly, although fully digital, Nexford students are still provided with any individual support from the faculty when needed. Nexford takes the approach of having faculty to support rather than instruct. Associate Professors focus on engaging with learners, while Assistant Professors, teaching assistants, and graders focus on providing learner feedback and grading assignments.

How Nexford Works

Nexford operates a learning-as-a-service subscription model. Learners pay for courses monthly, with price ranges based on local markets to remain globally affordable. Meanwhile, an MBA at Nexford University would take a typical learner roughly 15 months, at a cost substantially cheaper than traditional alternatives, while allowing them to retain flexibility and ensuring all learning is relevant to the job market today and tomorrow.

Since the learning model is flexible, learners can also complete their degrees at their own pace, allowing them to choose how quickly they want to enter the job market or even take on a part-time job whilst they work.

More importantly, because Nexford is a purely digital university, it is a boon for data collection, analytics, and interactive program development. They can quickly leverage data analytics to better tailor course offerings, which has enabled Nexford to ensure the students are finding value. Learner satisfaction surveys demonstrate just how the students think about Nexford: 96% of learners were satisfied with their studies and would recommend Nexford to others.

Nexford also has an easily scalable business and is working to ensure that as they grow, their costs reduce. They do this by leveraging AI and automating repetitive tasks to drive the cost down to allow scalability and better unit economics.

The Team

Nexford’s founding team has deep experience in building startups, passion for education and growing a global business.

Fadl Al Tarzi, Nexford CEO, boasts 20 years of experience founding and running digital marketing and software-as-a-service businesses. His startups have raised over $25 million in growth capital and employ over 500 people globally. Fadl will bring his extensive experience in building startups to ensure the success of Nexford University.

Paul Coleman is the CTO. He has experience in building tech products, having worked at Microsoft, building Microsoft Office products. He also has experience working at startups, having spent five years at a fintech, and will bring his experience of building innovative tech products to build Nexford University’s extensive technology stack.

Dr. Sheila Fourneir-Bonilla is the Chief Academic Officer. She has over two decades of academic leadership experience serving higher education institutions across the US, Latin America, and Europe. She will bring her experience in designing and implementing innovative curriculums to tailor the offerings of Nexford University.

Olamidun Majekodunmi is the Nigerian Country Director. She launched Nexford University in Nigeria and runs the operations and strategic growth plans. She brings over 8 years of international work experience in strategy and operations consulting, education management and building startups.

Nexford also has several highly skilled and experienced faculty staff, success advisors, and admissions team members supporting students on their Nexford University journey.

At Future Africa, we are excited to be a part of Nexford’s journey as it transforms the future of education across Africa and the rest of the world. We welcome Fadl, Sheila, Paul, Olamidun and the Nexford team to the Future Africa community.

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