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Students enrolled in Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) in Ghana.Camfed / Jonathan Birch

About 270 students from Africa will have the opportunity to receive a Canadian education because of a new partnership among three of the country's top universities and the MasterCard Foundation.

Over the next 10 years, the foundation is providing the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and McGill University with $25-million each to educate African students in Canada. The program will pay for students' tuition and living expenses, including pocket money, and set up internship opportunities for them back in Africa.

The $500-million global education initiative identifies academically gifted students who have struggled with poverty, Reeta Roy, president and CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, said Thursday. "If it were not for this opportunity to get an education, these students would not get one at all," she said. "We know that this will be life changing for all of them."

The program was launched last year with 12 universities around the world and includes students from all over Africa, Ms. Roy said. This will be its first year in Canada. The goal is to educate 15,000 students over the next 10 years, she said.

Universities that were selected have strong programs matching African growth sectors, such as agriculture and sustainable development, Ms. Roy said.

Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, said internship and co-op opportunities for African students will be arranged in their home countries so students don't leave Africa permanently. "We're trying to do everything possible to make it attractive for these students to go home and make a difference in their own environment," he said. "We do not want this to be yet another contribution to what has been an incredible brain drain out of Africa."

About 10 students are expected this fall at UBC. But that number is expected to grow over the next few years, he said. Over the next 10 years, 112 students are expected to participate in the program. About 460 African students currently attend the university.