Pan-African University starts recruiting students in three countries

The Pan-African University, or PAU, has started recruiting its first batch of postgraduate students, who are expected to start this year – the strongest signal yet that the international institution is taking off after years of planning and sometimes fraught negotiations.

The African Union-driven continental university, aimed at supplying Africa with high-level skills through postgraduate training and research, has invited students to join three of its five satellite campuses in Kenya, Cameroon and Nigeria.

Students interested in masters and PhD courses were given until 30 June to apply.

The satellite campuses include Kenya’s PAU Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation, at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya; the PAU Institute for Life and Earth Sciences at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria; and the PAU Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Yaoundé II in Cameroon.

Algeria has launched a campus of the PAU specialising in water, renewable energy sciences and climate change, based at the University of Algeria but initially located at two other institutions. It will reportedly admit 40 PhD and 50 masters students this September.

The structure of the PAU includes five thematic hubs, referred to as PAU institutes, one located in each geographic region of Africa. Each of the institutes will be linked to 10 PAU centres under the same theme, located in different parts of the continent.

No new infrastructure will initially be constructed. Rather, existing facilities at host universities will be used as satellites campuses.

The major goal of the continental university is to reposition higher education and research at the centre of Africa’s development agenda, in close cooperation with the private sector, by boosting the production of high-level intellectual capital.

The campuses are expected to generate a pool of young African professionals and scientists with high-level training and innovative perspectives in their fields who will help to catalyse the continent’s transformation, according to an African Union (AU) background paper.

The setting up of the PAU, was due to go live in mid-2010 but was delayed by various factors including financial constraints, with the AU dithering over announcing funding while host countries showed little interest in financing the facility.

According to the AU Commission, the satellite nodes will be one-third funded by the host country, one-third by the AU – mainly in the form of fellowships – and one-third by a lead partner to be identified in each region.

Other teething problems were disputes over the selection of host countries and universities, and setting up infrastructural and administrative systems.

But now things are looking up.

Last month, the Chinese government signed a financing deal with Jomo Kenyatta University that will see the Asian giant help build infrastructure in its PAU facility. Germany is supporting the North African node in Algeria.

In its latest report on the university, the AU said some member states hosting the PAU have committed funds in support of their institutes. The AU has also sourced support from partners, including €2 million (US$2.5 million) from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or GIZ, and €500,000 from Sweden.

Spain is also said to be contributing to PAU activities and discussions have been held with Japan, India, China and USAID, with commitments awaited.

While four of the five geographical regions have picked the countries and institutions that will host the institution, Southern Africa is yet to arrive at a final decision, further delaying the establishment of the key facility.

South Africa was early on named as the Southern African host of an institute focusing on space sciences, which is one of the country’s areas of science excellence. But other countries objected that they had not been consulted and a decision is outstanding.