New centres of excellence for East and Southern Africa

The World Bank-backed African Centres of Excellence initiative is expanding from Central and West Africa to East and Southern Africa. A call for universities that can develop highly skilled personnel and conduct applied research to meet the economic and developmental needs of the region was made in Uganda last month.

Xiaonan Cao, World Bank senior education specialist for Eastern and Southern Africa, said the call for proposals was in preparation for a planned investment project to be reviewed by the Bank in 2016.

“At this point IDA [the International Development Association] has committed US$140million to the project. We are working with development partners (beyond the traditional ones) to see if more funds could be raised,” Cao told University World News.

The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project – ACE II – aims to establish and strengthen specialisation and collaboration among a network of higher education institutions in East Africa and Southern Africa to deliver relevant and quality education and applied research to address key regional development challenges.

A consultative process

Cao said there had been broad consultations with regional bodies and governments in the East and Southern Africa regions since 2014. After several video-conferences a consultative workshop was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last January in which 13 country delegations and representatives from regional bodies and development partners participated.

Official expression of interest eventually came from 10 governments to participate in ACE II and a set of development priorities to focus on were decided.

The governments of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe will be working with the two organisations to implement the project.

The World Bank said the countries prioritised science, technology, engineering and mathematics, agriculture, health, STI – science, technology and innovation – quality of education and applied statistics.

Nine of the 10 countries are represented on an ACE II regional steering committee. Burundi is not represented due to political unrest in the country.

The Inter-University Council for East Africa or IUCEA, based in the Ugandan capital Kampala, will be the regional facilitation and administration centre for ACE II.


Cao said interested institutions would need help in developing winning proposals from existing or future partners in or outside the region.

“To achieve real impact, regional collaboration and partnerships with other institutions and industry are very much encouraged by the project,” he told University World News.

The first Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence project, approved in April 2014, is set to close at the end of 2018, with the World Bank committing US$150 million in loans and a total project cost of US$290 million including financing from other sources.

It covers 19 centres in seven countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo in West Africa.

The World Bank and IUCEA will help the 10 African countries to set up ACE II by selecting higher education institutions that have capacity in specialised areas with great potential to help address defined challenges.

Networks will be built among the selected institutions to promote regional collaboration and foster training and applied research partnerships with other institutions and industry, in order to produce innovative solutions for real development impact.

Institutions that intend to host centres of excellence should offer PhD programmes – at least one of which is related to a regional development priority.

Proposals will need to outline how the centre could improve the capacity to deliver regional high quality training, its ability to develop capacity to conduct applied research, build regional and inter-regional academic collaboration, raise the quality of education, tackle regional development challenges, and nurture industry partnerships to enrich the centre’s impact.

Applications will close on 2 October.

As ACE II prepares to start, Cao said there were some key lessons to learn from the first initiative.

These are: “The importance of university and faculty ownership and empowerment, academic and administrative support to the ACEs, regional and international partnerships, benefit from the African diaspora, a multi-sectoral approach and linking with economic growth sectors, the willingness of partners to contribute, and increasing the importance of economic and development impact and institutional leadership in the proposal evaluations,” he said.