The Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) Program

The Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program furthers ASEC's mission to empower African girls and women to become responsible leaders and citizens in their communities and in society.

HESA seeks to ensure access to quality, affordable higher education leading to a bachelor’s degree in a needed and relevant professional field for sisters in select African countries.

The program is designed to open new pathways to higher education, and to be delivered, at least partially, via distance education. It was designed in recognition that shortfalls in African higher education systems, inadequate preparation among many sisters, lack of funds for congregations to provide higher education, and the need to meet the high demand for professionally qualified leaders, cannot be entirely addressed through conventional face-to-face education in Africa. Opportunities for entirely onsite study are also provided.

HESA's goal is to provide access to higher education resulting in a bachelor’s degree for sisters in: Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Southern Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

As of August 2015, 229 sisters from 8 countries in West, East, and Central Africa, are enrolled in degree and diploma programs at 11 partner institutions through HESA. Sixteen sisters graduated from the program, 13 with diplomas and 3 with bachelor's degrees. HESA is scheduled to provide higher education to 250 sisters by 2019, 200 of which will graduate with degrees.

Models of Study 

HESA currently offers two models of delivery in order to meet the needs of sisters living in various contexts:

Model A uses an innovative design to deliver higher education through partnerships between American and African higher education institutions to offer a hybrid online and onsite degree program for sisters. This model opens opportunities to access education for sisters for whom it might be otherwise inaccessible; it provides sisters who did not directly qualify for entry to university, the opportunity to matriculate at an American university, and then complete their degree onsite at an African university. To begin, the program is designed for sisters take one to two years of education online while enrolled at the American partner institution. After successful completion of their coursework, the sisters transfer to the African partner institution to complete their degrees onsite. Courses taken online are carefully selected to correspond with the curriculum at the partner institution, and are accepted as transfer credits when the students transition to onsite study. Online courses delivered by the American university prepare sisters for their degree programs, and help remediate prior educational inadequacies. Taking classes online also allows sisters to continue serving in their ministries. Additional benefits, include: development of computer skills, access to learning resources available online at American institutions, and global knowledge and competency through interaction with American instructors and students via a virtual, spatial interface. Model A’s mode of delivery uses pertinent technological innovations readily available in Africa by accessing the internet via cellular signals.

Model B provides onsite educational opportunities for sisters to study at local colleges and universities in their countries.  In Tanzania, for example, it is sensible for sisters to study in person because internet access and signal strength is low, and language may be a barrier to online learning and access. Not all individuals are able to learn easily via the online model. Moreover, because not all content, instruction, and required experiences can be delivered online, courses such as practicums will only be delivered onsite. To support and monitor the progress of sisters studying onsite at African universities, ASEC partners with carefully selected African institutions.

Given the high demand for upgrading sisters’ credentials, the provision of both online distance learning and onsite instruction at African universities will allow ASEC to serve more sisters, and for those sisters to serve more people in their communities.

In both Model A and B sisters will participate in an orientation session before coursework begins in order to prepare them for their studies, and in an annual reflective learning workshop which allows sisters time to support each other in the learning process, and in order to provide valuable feedback to ongoing monitoring and evaluation.


Partnerships are at the center of the Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program’s structure. The first higher education partnership formed through the HESA program framework was established between Marywood University and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). A monumental event for ASEC took place August 1, 2012, when Sr. Anne Munley, IHM, Ph.D., President of Marywood University, Scranton. PA., USA, and Rev. Msgn. Pius Rutechura, Vice Chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), establishing a partnership between the two institutions to offer a joint Bachelor of Education degree. Symbolically, this first MOU, launched the HESA program.

The first class of 18 sisters in HESA entered the Marywood-CUEA B.Ed. program in January 2013, marking a pilot phase for HESA. Eighteen women religious, who successfully completed the three-year Hilton Funded Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program, studied education for one-year via online, distance learning at Marywood University and transferred to CUEA in January 2014, where they will complete their degrees (Model A). A second cohort was admitted and began classes online in January 2014, and a third cohort will begin classes in January 2015. The students will study online for one to two years before transferring to CUEA.

Development of the program is ongoing and it remains in a pilot phase. In time, and as the program grows, ASEC’s partner institutions, Chestnut Hill College, Marywood University, Neumann University, and Rosemont College will participate in the program by offering degree programs to sisters in Africa online, or through subsequent partnerships. 

Already, a partnership between Chestnut Hill College and the Catholic University College of Ghana (CUCG), is serving sisters in West Africa, providing education opportunities. October 31, 2013, Sister Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, President of Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA., USA, and Professor James Hawkins Ephraim, Vice Chancellor of the Catholic University College of Ghana (CUCG), Fiarpe, Ghana, signed a MOU to create a joint B.Ed. option for sisters. The sisters will study online at Chestnut Hill and later transfer to CUCG (Model A). In August 2014, 18 sisters from Ghana and Nigeria began the program. 

Marywood University signed a second MOU with Kisubi Brothers University College (KBUC), Kampala, Uganda, on June 11, 2014. Sister Anne Munley, IHM, President, Marywood University, and Professor John Ssebufu, Principal, KBUC, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU was signed virtually, with ASEC regional coordinators, Sr. Margaret Kubanze and Sr. Germina Keneema, on site in Uganda.

Frameworks of Reference (FOR) established partnerships between ASEC and universities in Africa to offer onsite (Model B) educational opportunities for sisters. Particularly, FORs were signed with St. Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT), Tangaza University College (Kenya), and Catholic University of South Sudan (CUSS), in 2013; Catholic University of Ghana, Catholic University of East Africa (Kenya), Kisubi Brothers University College (Uganda), and the Association of Sisterhood of Kenya (AOSK), in 2014; and Veritas University (Nigeria) in 2015. These agreements, between ASEC and partner universities, represent a partnership for onsite programs of study (Model B). Through the partnership with AOSK, sisters study at Chemchemi Ya Uzima Institute. One sisters is also studying nursing at Aga Khan University.

All online (Model A) students are studying for B.Ed.’s. Onsite (Model B), sisters are studying for various degrees. Students are studying for a variety of degrees and diplomas. Namely, sisters enrolled at SAUT are studying education and business administration; Tangaza, leadership / resource management and theology; CUEA onsite, degrees in the fields of arts and sciences, and commerce; KBUC, business administration; Chemchemi, Theology; Veritas, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences; Catholic University of South Sudan, education; and Aga Khan, nursing.

 Signing the Framework at SAUT                Signing the Framework at Tangaza College

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