American University is supplying academic and management expertise to help launch Nigeria's first private U.S.-style university, and school officials will travel to Africa for next week's groundbreaking ceremony.
The coeducational campus will be in Yola, which is in the home state of Nigeria's vice president, Atiku Abubakar, a wealthy businessmen and the school's prime sponsor. His wife, Jennifer, is a PhD student at American's School of International Service.
The vice president and Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, are to attend the groundbreaking Monday, along with American University President Benjamin Ladner and other school officials. Classes at ABTI-American University of Nigeria are to begin next September.
The venture will be the second of its kind for American University, which helped found American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates in 1997. It is part of a trend for U.S. schools to tap into the growing market for higher education in other countries.
A number of American business schools have established programs abroad for foreign students. A for-profit company, Laureate Education Inc., runs a dozen of its own colleges in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Among nonprofit universities, starting a new college from scratch "is not frequent, but it's no longer rare," according to David Ward, president of the American Council on Education.
Robert A. Pastor, American University's vice president of international affairs, said yesterday that American will offer advice in areas from physical facilities to curriculum. The university has signed a five-year management contract for an undisclosed amount of money, but he said the chief motive is not financial.
"Africa is on the precipice of marginalization because of poverty and AIDS," Pastor said. "It's been left out of the world economy. Most development specialists understand that the most important step towards progress is education. . . . We are hoping to contribute by our advice and support to making this university a model in sub-Saharan Africa."
Pastor said that 75 to 100 people at American will be involved, including Nigerian students and employees. The Washington area is a center of Nigerian immigration, with many students coming here for college or graduate school.
The demand for college in Nigeria is huge, Pastor said: A million students pass the higher education entrance exam each year, but there are places for only 116,000. He said the school will appeal to some students who would have traveled abroad for their education. Its tuition -- $6,000 a year -- is high for Nigeria but less than in the United States or England.
The university will start small, with 200 students and three programs: liberal arts, business and information technology. Officials plan to expand within a decade to 7,000 students and additional programs. In contrast with British-style public universities in Africa, where first-year students enroll in a specific subject concentration, students will have two years, as U.S. students do, to take a variety of classes before deciding on a major.
The university's president, who began work last month, is David Huwiler, former chief executive and chief academic officer of the American University-Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, which is not connected with American University.