WEST AFRICA: Bank grant for network of S&T institutions

The African Development Bank is supporting science and technology on the continent with a US$17.6 million-equivalent grant to fund a Network of African Institutions of Science and Technology Project in the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.

The grant from the African Development Fund was approved last week in Tunis, to finance the project which aims to provide a regional response to the need for high-level expertise in science and engineering in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"Bank support to this regional initiative is grounded on the recognition that higher education and skills development are central to economic growth and sustainable development," said the Bank in a statement.

Two centres of excellence in the region - the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) based in Abuja, Nigeria, and the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso - have been identified as key partners in the project.

"Developed at the request of the ECOWAS Commission the project, while increasing access to quality training, will facilitate greater synergy among S&T institutions as well as the mobility of students, faculty, and even professionals among the countries of the region," said the Bank.

It is hoped the project will increase the supply of engineers, scientists and researchers in West Africa, encourage student and academic exchange and promote the use of research outcomes to solve challenges in the region and benefit its people. "In terms of gender equity, specific efforts will be made to attract and retain female students in the schools," the statement said.

Benefits, the Bank argued, will also accrue to staff at both institutions in the form of training, faculty exchanges and participation in scientific conferences. "Finally, the project also targets the private sector as AUST will train 510 full-time degree students and some 100 part-time students from petroleum companies during its duration." It also expects African companies to benefit through industry-institution collaboration, research and innovation."

The project's design is based on lessons drawn from other Bank-supported national and regional interventions in higher education such as the Africa Virtual University, the West African Economic and Monetary Union Higher Education Project, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa and the Kigali Institute of Science Project.

"Together, these initiatives are designed to lay the foundation for the establishment of regional poles of excellence to train Africans in science and engineering. In this regard, the Bank's intervention is a consolidated response to the pressing demand for quality and relevant training of highly skilled scientists and engineers in Africa to deal with a myriad of development challenges facing the continent," said the Bank.