Second African centres of excellence project launched

A second regional centres of excellence project, co-funded by the World Bank and aimed at providing sustainable solutions through science and technology in higher education across East and Southern Africa, was officially unveiled in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on 26 October.

The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project or ACE II seeks to strengthen 24 competitively selected university research centres to deliver quality, market relevant postgraduate education and research.

The centres will build collaborative research capacity in five regional priority areas: agriculture, applied statistics, education, health, and industry (science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM).

The five-year project, financed by the World Bank to a tune of US$140 million in the form of credit to eight participating countries, follows on ACE I, which was launched in 2014 for Western and Central Africa, initially with 19 centres of excellence selected across seven countries.

The centres

According to officials, the Eastern and Southern African ACEs were selected through a competitive process based on merit.

Out of 92 eligible proposals submitted, 24 were selected from eight countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. There are four centres each in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, three in Kenya, two each in Malawi and Zambia and one in Mozambique.

Each centre of excellence will receive US$4.5 million to US$6 million to implement its proposal.

Over the project duration of five years, the ACEs are expected to collectively enrol more than 3,500 graduate students in the regional development priority areas, among whom more than 700 will be PhD students and more than 1,000 must be female students.

It is anticipated that universities and governments will continue to support the centres of excellence after the initial funding boost.

The project

The Inter-University Council for East Africa or IUCEA, an institution of the East African Community based in Uganda, is the regional facilitation unit of the ACE II project. It will receive a grant of US$8 million to oversee its coordination, facilitation and administration.

“As governments, let us think development, progress and facilitation,” Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s education, science and technology cabinet secretary, told people at the launch, among them vice-chancellors and faculty leaders.

Professor Alexandre Lyambabaje, executive secretary of IUCEA, thanked the World Bank for its “commitment to support higher education in Africa”.

He valued the new partnership among governments in the region aimed at improving the quality of training and research in higher education, and reducing the skills gap in development priority areas.

According to officials, Africa continues to lag behind the rest of the world in generating graduates in science and technology.

“IUCEA will provide forums for industry-academic engagement for ACEs to share knowledge on collaborative research ideas,” said a launch statement.

IUCEA will also supervise a competitive scholarship programme in which 30 regional students in STEM will be financed for two years to attain a masters degree in any of the centres of excellence.

“We have a shortage of graduates in the fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction, which translates to few skilled professionals with specialised knowledge in areas such as oil and gas, energy and railways industries,” said Professor Colletta Suda, Kenya’s principal secretary of higher education.

Professor David Some, head of Kenya’s Commission for University Education, told University World News: “At the moment, we do not have scientifically trained farmers, especially in commercial food production – tea, coffee, pyrethrum and sugar – and we need this.” The centres of excellence would help tackle this challenge.

The ACE II project is expected to close in December 2022.