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AFRICA
World Bank PhD skills programme seeks greater buy-in

Only five African countries have made their pledges and committed to the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund, or RISF, launched by the Africa-led Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology programme since its launch in 2015.

The programme, also known as PASET, is geared towards training a critical mass of PhD scholars in select scientific fields and aims to accelerate the development of a skilled, high-quality workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was launched in 2013 in Ethiopia.

In an exclusive interview with University World News, Xiaoyan Liang, lead education specialist at the World Bank in Washington DC, said the low membership is limiting the number of scholarships offered to PhD students under the programme.

“The challenge is getting most of the African countries to commit to the flagship programme,” said Liang. She said a lack of awareness about the programme could be one of the reasons behind the slow uptake.

Currently, only Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire – all board members of PASET – have made their initial minimum contribution of US$2 million to the PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund, or RSIF.

Forum

According to Liang, the focus at the PASET forum to be held in Kenya from 5-7 April will be on mobilising more African countries and the private sector to join PASET as members and contribute to the programme. The forum will also consolidate collaborations with partner countries from outside Africa and the private sector in order to grow the fund, she said.

However, with only a limited time until the forum, 15 African countries, including the five members, are confirmed to attend.

“We hope that other countries will also attend the meeting,” said Liang.

Although PASET targets all African countries, Liang said 80% of the government-financed scholarships under the programme will be reserved for African countries contributing to the RSIF. The remaining 20% will be open to students from other African countries that are not members.

Minimum contributions

In addition to the minimum initial contribution of US$2 million by Sub-Saharan country governments and private sector groups who wish to be PASET members, development partners and private organisations may also provide technical assistance or other relevant services for PASET in an equivalent amount.

According to Liang, the forum, to be attended by education ministers, will serve as a vital learning experience as well as a networking opportunity for those who are interested in investing in African talent in the applied science, engineering and technology fields.

It will showcase examples of skills development and innovation in these areas in Africa and the rest of the world.

Skills mismatch

“The forum will be used as a platform to showcase how the programme will address the skills mismatch that has been a concern for many employers in the continent for a long time,” she said.

Economies like China, India, South Korea and Brazil faced similar challenges before investing in programmes like PASET, she said.

It is estimated that less than a quarter of students in African universities are enrolled today in science, engineering and technology programmes.

The RSIF scholarship brief will also be shared at the forum in Nairobi, Kenya, according to Ruth Charo, World Bank senior education specialist in Kenya.

Doctoral scholarships

She said the scholarships will target doctoral students who are within one or two years of completing a PhD degree and are enrolled in an academic institution.

RSIF scholarships will support full-time PhD study for a maximum of three to four years, depending on the course of study. Tuition and fees will be paid directly to host universities, while stipends for food and housing will be distributed directly to scholars.

RSIF is currently implemented by the Association of African Universities, which hosts and manages it according to an agreement with PASET.

The programme implements its regional initiatives through organisations selected for their institutional and governance strengths and capacity for delivery. All country-specific initiatives are implemented through the governments of participating countries using national mechanisms.

Under the programme, African countries are expected to partner with China, South Korea, Japan, India and Brazil.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology last year committed its support to the programme.
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