Eight countries to get 23 centres of research excellence

Twenty-three proposals from eight countries have been conditionally selected for the World Bank’s Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project – ACE II. Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda each bagged four research centres, followed by Kenya and Rwanda with three, Malawi and Zambia with two and Zimbabwe with one.

Their selection is conditional on appraisals to be conducted by the World Bank, and approval by the World Bank Group’s board. Mozambique was the only participating country that failed to secure a centre of excellence.

Another eight proposed centres from universities in five of the countries – three from Rwanda, two from Kenya and one each from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda – were deemed ‘fundable’ and could potentially be supported by individual countries or donors.


ACE II is being guided by a regional steering committee comprising representatives from participating countries, academia, regional bodies and the private sector. The implementing agency is the Inter-University Council for East Africa, or IUCEA.

It follows on ACE I, which was launched in 2014 for Western and Central Africa, with 19 centres of excellence selected across seven countries. ACE I is funded to the tune of US$430 million and ends in 2018.

The ACE II objective is to establish and strengthen specialisation and collaboration among higher education institutions designated as African Centres of Excellence, “to deliver relevant and quality education and applied research to address key development challenges facing the region”, according to its website.

The development priorities identified for the project fall into four areas: science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM; agriculture; health; and science, technology and innovation or STI – quality of education and applied statistics.

The selection process

In an announcement on 14 December, the ACE II regional steering committee detailed the processes and criteria used to select proposals from the nine countries participating in the initiative. A call for proposals was issued on 31 July 2015 and 108 were received by the deadline on 2 October.

The most proposals – 20 each – came from universities in Ethiopia and Kenya followed by Uganda (19), Tanzania (18), Zimbabwe (13), Rwanda (6), Mozambique (5), Malawi (4) and Zambia (3). Mozambique was the only country that failed to conditionally secure any centre.

There were 34 proposals in fields of STEM, 33 in agriculture, 27 in health, nine in STI-education and five in STI-applied statistics.

After screening based on three key criteria – that proposals were from participating countries and the universities offered PhD programmes and had programmes in at least one disciplinary area related to one of the regional development priorities – 98 centres remained in contention.

The ACE II statement stressed that the selection process had been independent, competitive and transparent. Independent evaluation committees were established, and the evaluation process had two parts – a technical evaluation of all proposals (70% of the final score) and an onsite evaluation of the 40 proposals that had been shortlisted (30%).

Following the evaluations, the regional steering committee met on 4 and 5 December 2015 to conditionally select the centres based, among other things, on merit, a balance among the regional development priority areas, and available financing.

The top achieving universities

The University of Rwanda and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia both clinched three centres, while two each were secured by Makerere University in Uganda and Tanzania’s Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology and Sokoine University of Agriculture.

Other institutions to have a centre selected are: Ethiopia’s Haramaya University; Malawi College of Medicine and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Egerton, Moi and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Kenya; Uganda Martyrs University and Mbarara University of Science and Technology; the universities of Zambia and the Copperbelt; and the University of Zimbabwe

Politically troubled Burundi did not participate and among other countries in the region that did not compete were Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.