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Future Africa backs US-based virtual university’s growth ambitions

By , ITWeb
Africa , 11 Jun 2021

US-based online university Nexford University has secured US$10.8-million in funding after a successful capital raise led by UAE-based venture capital firm Global Ventures.

According to the university, participating investors included Future Africa’s new thematic fund focused on education, which is led by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, the co-founder of Flutterwave and Andela, plus angel investors, family offices and VCs from the US, UK, France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Nexford will use proceeds to fuel its regional expansion plans particularly in Asia, continue building products to deliver skills employers are looking for, and expand its B2B offerings. With employer funded education already accounting for a large percentage of Nexford’s revenue, the university aims to expand its offering to meet rising needs for re-skilling and up-skilling in a post pandemic workplace.

The institution was launched in 2019 and it claims its revenues in 2020 grew by 300%, with learners enrolling from over 65 countries.

It has partnerships with Microsoft, LinkedIn Learning and IBM “to provide access to tools, courses and programmes to enrich the learning experience. Nexford’s curriculum is also specifically designed to match employers’ needs with its graduates’ skills.”

The company leverages machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create a data and skills-driven curriculum.

Nexford University’s CEO, Fadl Al Tarzi, said: “For years, millions of global learners have expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo, and millions more are on the side lines left underserved by current options. Learners want high-quality, yet affordable education relevant to today’s business environment, whilst retaining the flexibility remote learning provides. In 2021, it is not acceptable for less than 10% of the world population to have a college degree, or for student debt in the US to be over $1.6 trillion. Now, with additional funding, we can invest in the technology and teams required to address these challenges.”

Global Ventures’ General Partner, Noor Sweid, said: “We are thrilled to partner with Fadl and the Nexford team on their journey toward expanding access to universal quality higher education in emerging markets. Nexford University is redressing the mismatch between the supply of talent and the demands of today's digital economy. This job is essential and necessary, and Global Ventures is excited to support the team in that endeavour.”

Aboyeji added: “During the pandemic, while many universities in Nigeria were shut down due to labour disputes, Nexford was already delivering an innovative and affordable new model of online higher education designed for a skills-based economy. Nexford is an absolute game-changer for higher education in Africa. We are excited to make this Future Africa’s first investment out of its soon-to-be launched fund focused on the future of learning.”

Africa’s entrepreneurship potential

According to a report by the African entrepreneurship initiative Anzisha Prize, Unlocking Africa’s Job Creators, entrepreneurship, supported by a policy framework designed to respond to challenges including cultural aversion (an entrenched system that favours one culture over the other based on race), weak education systems and bureaucracy, can help the continent’s youth create over a million jobs by 2030.

The initiative also referenced a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) titled 2020 Policy Note on Africa: The Future of Production which indicated that the continent will, by 2030, be home to a capable labour force of over 1.6 billion, larger than Asia and South America.

“Yet, the continent creates very few employment opportunities: only 16 million new jobs were created between 2008 and 2016 for the continent’s youth (people aged between 15 - 24 years), a miniscule number considering the size of the youth cohort on the continent (Figures for 2015 reflect that there was 226 million youth aged 15-24 in Africa). This means that those of the population who should be working - the majority of which are youth - is growing faster than the regional economy is able to accommodate them,” said Anzisha Prize.

Nhlawulo Shikwambane, Programme Coordinator: Very Young Entrepreneurs at the Anzisha Prize, said young people from the ages of 17 are more than capable of building businesses: “We have seen many of them joining the initiative as Fellows of the Anzisha Prize between the ages of 17 and 22, building their businesses from scratch and quickly building teams of age-mates who then grow together with them.”

“Take Vanessa Ishimwe, for example. A 23-years old founder of Youth Initiative for Development in Africa (YIDA) - an organisation that trains young people in education, entrepreneurship and leadership skills - and is based in a refugee camp in Uganda. YIDA has enrolled over 800 children in early-childhood development schooling and employs 31 people, 15 of whom are youth under the age of 25.”

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