Gambia's first private university opened last month. The American International University West Africa specialises in the health sciences and will use curriculum and teaching methodology based on the American system, to help students meet the licensing requirements of any country.
Dinesh Shukla, the new university's President, said the institutions had been founded with a vision to provide a well-rounded education that prepares students to excel in the field of health sciences. A challenge had been to recruit well-qualified staff from the rest of the world.
The university enrolled its first intake of 90 students in February, 30 students each in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. The students are from 74 countries, with only 10% of places reserved for Gambian students.
Shukla, a biochemist, said that in addition to education in the classroom setting, students would have the opportunity to learn through interacting with hospital departments and patients.
"Students, faculty and the administration define the identity of the establishment for its members and the community," said Shukla, former CEO and chairman of the board of trustees for Northside General Hospital in Houston Texas.
"In the case of our institution, the community is the whole continent of Africa in particular and the world in general," he told University World News.
He said AIUWA was committed to creating a diverse student body and to promoting an international camaraderie among students. He added that the institution intended to teach and shape the next generation of medical professionals.
The university is an offshoot of Centre Medical International (CMI), which brought together a group of physicians and professionals who established an American hospital in Conakry, Guinea, in 1998.
Shukla said the initial agreement was to establish a higher education institution in Guinea. The preparation for a university began in earnest in 2004 and, three years later, the Ministry of Higher Education granted permission for the establishment of the American International University School of Medicine in Guinea.
Implementation was, however, postponed after Guinea's president Lansana Conte died on 22 December 2008, and due to turmoil and instability in Guinea.
A decision was taken to look at other countries in West Africa, and permission for the new university was granted by Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh.
Shukla said being the first private university in Gambia came with big responsibilities. "Our work has just begun. Quality medical education, quality faculty and facilities are among the big challenges we have. Quality medical education is expensive anywhere in the world."
He said the university had set its fees at a level that would enable it to be economically viable. However, the fees are 60% cheaper than medical schools in Western countries, he added.