World Bank launches ‘centres of excellence’ initiative

The World Bank expects to kick off a new US$430 million Africa “Centres of Excellence” initiative next month, aimed at strengthening capacity in universities in West and Central Africa.

The project will promote regional specialisation among participating universities and strengthen their ability to deliver quality training and research.

Andreas Blom, the World Bank’s lead economist for African education, launched the project at the 13th Association of African Universities Conference of Rectors, Vice-chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREVIP), held in Gabon’s capital Libreville late last month.

The World Bank will invest US$129 million, and institutions will be eligible to apply for funding of up to US$8 million per excellence centre, Kavita Watsa, the bank’s senior communications officer for Africa, told University World News.

The project targets strengthening seven to 10 higher education institutions in West and Central Africa, where 10 to 15 centres of excellence will be selected to focus on training and applied research in areas of relevance to Africa's development such as water, infrastructure, hospitality industries, banking, and information and communication technology.

Qualifying universities and centres will be supported to bolster postgraduate programmes, attract top researchers and produce more research, improve curricula with input from experts, and offer specialised courses for industry professionals. Existing facilities will be upgraded and better resourced and equipped.

The objective of the project is to build capacity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields as well as in health and agricultural sciences. Other objectives include to:
  • • Promote regional specialisation among participating universities in areas that address regional challenges.
  • • Strengthen the capacities of the universities to deliver quality training and applied research.
  • • Meet the demand for skills required for Africa's development, such as for extractive industries.
“A regional approach to higher education in Africa offers the best way to build and sustain excellence in tertiary education in African economies,” said Watsa.

The project is currently preparing a call for proposals for the selection of the Africa Centres of Excellence, or ACEs, and the call is expected to be announced by the end of June.

An independent evaluation committee – mainly comprising members from the African educational and scientific community supported by diaspora and global technical experts – will select the ACEs, which will work with both academic and industry partners.

Watsa said that Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo were countries from the region that are eligible to participate. The Gambia will participate in the second phase of the project in which non-ACE hosting countries will be able to buy regional education services from the selected centres of excellence.

Consultations with other countries that may be interested in benefiting from receiving staff development and student training from the selected ACEs are also under way, Watsa told University World News.

The Association of African Universities, or AAU, will support the regional coordination and facilitation of the project. Within the next few weeks the AAU will launch a project website that will provide details of the call for proposals and the wider process, said Watsa.

Universities will lead the funding proposals, which will be submitted to the AAU through government agencies.

The initiative has a strong emphasis on collaboration with regional partners, including the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the East African Community and CAMES – the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education – as well as additional development partners.