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The rigorous selection process of the third phase of the World Bank-supported Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Project, otherwise known as ACE for Development Impact (ACE Impact), came to a close on 2 November, 2018, with the conditional selection of 44 beneficiaries. A break-down of the 44 beneficiaries showed that 26 were new ACEs, while 18 were old Centres in the first phase (ACE I), which got their Projects renewed through additional funding.
Nigeria led the pack with 17, followed by Ghana with eight, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, four each; Burkina Faso and Togo, three each; Benin Republic got two, while Cameroon, Guinea and Niger got one each. Ten out of Nigeria’s 17 Centres were newly selected and the remaining seven got renewals.
The selection was the high point of the two-day meetings, hosted by the Association of African Universities (AAU) at its General Secretariat in Accra, Ghana. First was the 13th ACE I Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting, which reviewed the performance of the Centres under ACE I, followed by the first ACE Impact Ministerial Project Steering Committee meeting, where the selection of the 44 Centres was done.
At the 13th ACE I PSC meeting, chaired by Professor Salifu Mohammed, members were presented the Project status and results of all the 22 Centres under the first phase in West and Central Africa, which covered student enrolment, internship, accreditation of programmes, learning achievement and environment, disbursements, supervision, etc, by officials of the World Bank and AAU, the latter being the Regional Facilitation Unit (RFU) for the ACE I and ACE Impact Projects.
One of the key decisions taken at the end of the meeting was to reinforce regional initiative of international quality assurance and accreditation between the African Union (AU) and AAU, with a strong message to the Centres to key into the process. Another decision was for governments and Centres to be informed about the regional character of the Centres and need for their sustainability after the World Bank support.
The first ACE Impact Ministerial PSC was chaired by the Ghanaian Minister of State for Tertiary Education, Professor Kwesi Yankah, who remarked, in his keynote address that “the development objective of the ACE Impact Project is to improve the quality, quantity and development impact of postgraduate education in selected universities through regional specialisation and collaboration”, adding that “this project will no doubt contribute to participating government’s objectives of reducing the higher-level skills gaps, improving applied research and technology uptake in the priority sectors and strengthening the best African universities.”
While expressing gratitude to the World Bank, AAU and their partners for the ACE Project and Ghana’s participation in it, Professor Yankah noted that “the strategy is to use these Centres as models to drive changes that will entrench Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as principal producers of knowledge that directly impact on socio-economic development.”
Earlier in his welcome remarks, Secretary-General of AAU, Professor Etienne Ehile stated that “education is the engine for the development of our various countries” and the ACE Project, a timely initiative to make that development happen. He thanked the World Bank and other partners, including the governments of the countries hosting the Centres, for their commitment to the success of the Project.
The governments of Nigeria, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Niger, Djibouti, Guinea, Togo and The Gambia had launched the third phase of the Project, known as Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) for Development Impact (ACE Impact) last May, building on the successful implementation of and lessons learnt from ACE I in West and Central Africa.
ACE Impact Project is focused on scaling up postgraduate education and applied research that are fundamental to economic growth in the region. The universities housing the Centres are expected to meet global standards for quality of education, recruit students across the region and collaborate with other African universities. The total investment across the countries is expected to reach USD 300 million, with funding from the World Bank and Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD).
According to the AAU, The final selection of the Centres is conditional upon: (i) the approval of the financing from the external financiers (World Bank and the AFD) and availability of sufficient financing for all the proposals; (ii) the selected universities incorporate the recommendations of the evaluators into their implementation plans, and (iii) the universities demonstrate sufficient capacity to manage the funds for their intended purpose. For the selected Centres where all of these conditions are met, it is planned that they will be approved for funding by April 2019.
AAU gave an insight into the rigorous and transparent process of selection. An independent team of evaluators, consisting of members from the African educational and scientific community supported by diaspora and global technical experts, reviewed the 105 proposals that were submitted to the RFU by higher education institutions from the participating countries. Proposals were subjected to several stages of evaluation including: (i) desk reviews in which each proposal was reviewed by two experts in Accra, Ghana; (ii) external evaluation in which each proposal was remotely assessed by a subject matter specialist, and (iii) a site and leadership evaluation in which a team of experts visited shortlisted proposal sites to ascertain the readiness of the institutions in terms of governance, leadership, and infrastructure.
The ACE Impact Ministerial Project Steering Committee that met in Accra consisted of five Ministers in charge of Higher education and seven high-level government representatives from the participating governments. It received a total of 110 proposals for the final stage of the selection process.
The priority fields of ACE Impact are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Health Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Applied Social Sciences.
The Project consists of three components:
Component 1: Establishing new and scaling up well-performing existing ACEs for development impact.
Component 2: Fostering regional partnerships for emerging Centres and regional scholarships.
Component 3: Enhancing regional facilitation as well as monitoring and evaluation (M& E)
The 10 new Centres in Nigeria and their Institutions are as follows:
ACE in Applied Informatics and Communication, Covenant University, Ota.
Centre for Public Health and Toxicology Research (PUTOR), University of Port Harcourt.
ACE for Sustainable Power and Energy Development, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
ACE on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL), National Open University of Nigeria.
ACE in Future Energies and Electrochemical Systems (ACE-FUELS), Federal University of Technology, Owerri.
ACE on New Pedagogies in Engineering Education (ACENPEE), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
ACE for Drug Research, Herbal Medicine Development and Regulatory Science (ACEDRHMDRS), University of Lagos.
ACE for Mycotoxin and Food Safety, Federal University of Technology, Minna.
Centre for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP), Bayero University, Kano
ACE for Innovative and Transformative STEM Education (CITSE), Lagos State University, Ojo.
The seven existing ACEs, which got additional funding are:
ACE in ICT-driven Knowledge Park (OAK Park), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Centre for Oilfield Chemicals Research (CEFOR), University of Port Harcourt.
ACE for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Ede.
ACE on Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology (ACENTDFB), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
ACE in Reproductive Health and Innovation, University of Benin.
Centre for Dryland Agriculture (CDA), Bayero University, Kano.
Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER), Benue State University, Makurdi.
The Africa Centre of Excellence in Phytomedicine Research and Development (ACEPRD) of the University of Jos has received a pat on the back from the World Bank/Association of African Universities (AAU)’s 6th supervision mission to the Project.
The team expressed delight at the steady progress made by the Centre in six months since the last visit. Subject-matter Expert, Prof. Michelle Niescierenko, described the team’s interaction with students of the Centre as very inspiring, as the students talked passionately about great mentorship, scientific research and facilities. She stated that ACEPRD had the potential to bridge the gap between the industry and academia because of the availability of its products which would increase the Centre’s revenue, in the long run, after the World Bank support. She advised the Centre to focus more on internship assessment and pay careful attention to verification processes.
In her remarks, another Subject-Matter Expert, Prof. Hadiza Galadanci, charged the Centre to encourage teamwork in grant writing so that the Centre could win more grants to support itself.
ACE Project Coordinator at the AAU, Prof. Jonathan Mba, expressed satisfaction at the efforts of the Centre in adhering to and implementing the recommendations of the World Bank experts. He charged the Centre to keep up the good work, adding that the students of the Centre paid glowing tributes to the Centre.
The two-day meeting also discussed extensively some key activities of the Centre, namely, international accreditation, internship, e-learning and Anti-snake vaccine. The experts urged the Centre to work out specific cost implications for the production of Mushroom and the Anti-snake vaccine. They emphasised the need for a business plan particularly looking to the Centre’s industry partners for assistance. In the area of e-learning platforms, the experts advised the Centre to use the platforms to reach more students in the region especially in the face of ACE Impact.
Earlier, while providing an update of the Centre’s activities, the Centre Leader and Deputy Centre Leader, Profs. John Aguiyi and Taiwo Alemika, stated that the processes for international accreditation have reached advanced stages with visits paid to the Royal Society of Biology in the UK. They also provided information on the progress of the production of the anti snake venom.
Some management committee members and students of ACEPRD were in attendance.
Following the successful Higher Education Fair and the PSC meeting, all participants gathered at the Ninth ACE Project Workshop, which opened with traditional dances by the Debourisi ethinic group. It was another opportunity to celebrate about 1,600 PhD and 6,000 Masters students who have so far enrolled in various programmes in the 22 Centres, with 12 of the programmes attaining international accreditation.
In his welcome remarks, Director General of 2iE, Professor Mady Koanda said it was a great honour to host the workshop. He thanked the government of Burkina Faso for allowing the University to host the event and facilitate what he described as “this big show of knowledge.” Professor Koanda said the Project was an important opportunity given to the Universities to compete with international universities. He prayed for a successful workshop and a happy stay in the city of Ouagadougou.
The World Bank (WB) Co-Task Team Leader, Ms. Himdat Bayusuf highlighted the achievements of the project in the last three and a half years. She said leveraging partnerships, strong focus on post graduate training, securing African academia in the global stage, international accreditation and research addressing particular needs of the region had been the major accomplishments of the Project, adding that the Workshop would focus on sustainability of the Centres. She thanked the governments for their ownership of the Project and thanked the organisers of the Workshop for a well-planned event.
In his welcome remarks, the Executive Secretary of AAU, Professor Etienne Ehile thanked the government for 9i continued commitment to the project. He said the workshop was an opportunity to identify challenges and seek solutions to avoid any lagging in the project. Prof. Ehile said the discussions should be frank and open as it has been in previous workshops.
World Bank’s Country Manager for Burkina Faso, Mr. Cheick F. Kante, in an opening address, noted that the ACE Project was developing necessary technologies to address development challenges. African countries must, therefore, share resources and collaborate to build an academic robust pool to solve our combined problems.
Burkina Faso’s Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation, Prof. Alkassoum Maiga, who declared the Workshop open, said Africa needed a new paradigm shift to solve her general problems by ensuring that her Universities can train students on an international platform, to produce highly skilled graduates. He thanked the World Bank and AAU for a brilliant Project and commended the 22 ACEs for a vibrant and educational fair. Prof. Maiga expressed hope that the ACE Impact Project would benefit many more universities in the region.
Discussions at the plenary sessions focussed the achievements of the Centres, their sustainability beyond World Bank’s support, promotion of university – industry linkages and international accreditation, among others.
The 12th Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting, comprising the Association of African Universities (AAU) World Bank, representatives of the governments of nine participating countries, Project Focal Points as well as the representative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), took place, recently, at l’Institut International de l’Eau et de l’Environment (2iE), in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where discussions on the third phase of the ACE Project took centre stage.
The meeting, which was chaired by PSC Member representing Burkina Faso, Professor Ramané Kaboré, was aimed at going over the Project status/progress as well as reviewing strategies for ensuring Project sustainability at the expiration of the World Bank’s intervention, in 2019. The meeting was also targeted at reviewing the impact of ACE I project as well as discussing prospects and objectives of ACE Impact, which is expected to kick off in 2019 and run for four to five years.
In his welcome remarks, Professor Ramané Kaboré, noted that it was an honour for his country to host the 12th sitting of the PSC and the 9th Project Workshop. He conveyed the government’s delight at being able to host other participating countries, following its inability to host, in November, 2017, as earlier scheduled. Professor Kaboré thanked members for their commitment to the ACE project, since inception and expressed optimism for fruitful deliberations.
Secretary General of the AAU, Professor Etienne Ehilé, also welcomed members on behalf of the Regional Facilitation Unit (RFU). He observed that, since the last meeting, in Accra, November, 2017, the Project had achieved several milestones and introduced some innovations, key among which was the maiden Higher Education Fair, held on 7 May, 2018. He observed the need to emphasise issues of sustainability, seeing as the Project was drawing to a close. Prof. Ehilé expressed optimism that discussions on the launch of ACE 3 (ACE-Impact), which had already commenced, would be concluded in the course of the meeting.
In his remarks, the new ECOWAS Commissioner for Education, Science and Culture, Professor Léopoldo Amado, a new comer at the PSC, expressed interest in the Project and hoped that deliberations at the meeting would enable him to better understand the workings of the ACE Project.
On behalf of the World Bank, Education Specialist and ACE Task Team Lead, Mr. Andreas Blom, commended the International Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) for being the first ACE to host the PSC meeting and the upcoming workshop. He expressed optimism that the outcomes of the first Higher Education Fair would be impactful and widely disseminated.
Discussing the status of the ACE I Project, the meeting noted that the Project had recorded significant improvement since the last PSC meeting and regional workshop. With three out of five Project Development Objectives (PDOs) already achieved, the PSC observed that ACE I was well on track to achieving all PDO indicators before the expiration of funds from the World Bank.
Areas of appreciable improvement included research publications (with the ACEs largely exceeding Project targets) and increased student enrolment. Despite the rise in enrolment figures, generally, the meeting observed that the number of female students enrolled in the ACEs, which is currently at 25 percent, was yet to hit the Project target of 30 percent. The meeting also noted the need for the ACEs to make more effort in the enrolment of male and female regional students.
Other critical issues discussed during the course of the meeting included verification of results of the ACEs, international accreditation for programmes of the Centres; disbursement of funds to the ACEs; and supervision missions by subject matter experts.
On the implementation of ACE Impact, the meeting noted that a number of lessons had been learnt from the first phase of the ACE project and would be carried forth to the third phase. These include the need to select Centres that are tied to clearly-defined development challenges, the need for stronger upfront industry/sectoral engagement/commitment; the need for strong institutional and country ownership; and an opportunity for institutional impact with appropriate incentives. Other lessons include the need to strengthen regional networks; The need for upfront capacity building, outreach and coordination, to accelerate performance; and the need to leverage funding within the Project.
The objectives of ACE Impact, which is billed to span four to five years, include to improve the quantity of enrolled students (ultimately, graduates) in post-graduate programmes; to improve the quality of post-graduate programmes, such that students acquire the necessary theoretical knowledge and applied skills, upon graduation. The Project also aims to improve development impact, such that the knowledge from research and skills acquired by graduates are directly impacting development challenges.
Cognisant that knowledge acquisition and hiring of well-rounded graduates contribute meaningfully to long-term impact, it is expected that the ACE Impact project would impact significantly on the development of the region, by addressing, in concrete ways, the skills shortage and knowledge needs associated with a development challenge. It is important to ensure that the ACEs do not exist as an oasis of excellence but, rather, influence change in their host institutions. Equally important is the need to ensure the strong involvement of industry from the proposal development stage and throughout Project implementation.
The ACEs would be strongly linked to demand expressed by stakeholders working in the region and would focus on the following broad themes: (i) Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (energy, ICT and water); (ii) Health (Nursing and professional health trainers); (iii) Education (Excellence in teacher training); (iv) Environment (coastal resilience as well as Environmental Science and applied impact assessment); (v) Urbanisation and Transport (transport logistics, urban planning and design as well as housing/land development; and (vi) Quantitative economics, among others.
It is proposed that ACE Impact would feature a Steering Committee, with representatives of participating governments, which would provide overall guidance and oversight for the Project. It would have national government participation, which would offer implementation support and meet bi-annually, to review Project progress. It is expected that national governments would also be fully involved in the pre-selection, selection and implementation stages of the ACE Impact project.
The Project would involve ECOWAS as a regional higher education and skills technical agency, to contact the Regional Facilitating Unit (RFU), convene steering committee meetings and ensure sustainability as well as implement regional policy. Like the first phase of the ACE project, the AAU would be the RFU and would handle Monitoring and Evaluation, verification of results, capacity building, and logistics as well as coordinate work with partners. On their part, the Centres and host universities would ensure full implementation of their proposals.
The World Bank had, so far, confirmed available funding from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Niger Republic, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. It was still in discussion with and yet to confirm funding from Gabon and Guinea Bisssau. There was also the possibility of funding or co-funding from the French Development Agency (AFD), France’s inclusive public development bank, for Cote d’Ivoire, Benin Republic, Senegal and Nigeria.
The meeting also noted that AFD had proposed a supplementary loan/grant for the ACE Impact Project, targeted at several countries including Nigeria. This would be in two components, Component 1 being a loan for countries under the ACE Impact Project that may wish to supplement the loan from the World Bank; while Component 2, a grant, would go to the AAU for regional activities (workshops, conferences, visits, supervision, etc). The AAU would receive the grant and countries in the region would benefit from the regional activities.
The 12th PSC was preceded by the maiden “Higher Education Student Fair” of the ACE Project, held on the campus. About 300 participants took part in the Fair, which brought together stakeholders from the academia (including students and faculty), the private sector, industry, civil society, among others.
A highlight of the PSC meeting was the decision that the next Project Workshop would take place in February, 2019, in Djibouti.
ACE is a regional higher education project designed to promote regional specialisation among participating Universities within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Agriculture and Health areas, that addresses particular common regional development challenge as well as strengthen the capacities of these Universities to deliver high quality training and applied research.