Banks pledge funds for STI research and training

Africa is to benefit from a multi-million-dollar boost for research and training in science, technology and innovation (STI), including the establishment of a pan-African university with funds from the African Development Bank, and a US$500 million fund from the Islamic Development Bank to finance projects in healthcare, education, water and agriculture.

Funds have also been earmarked by the African Development Bank for the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Institute, aimed at strengthening higher-level training and research in engineering, science, technology and innovation on the continent.

These were some of the key pledges at the third edition of the Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (Africa STI Forum), held earlier this month in Cairo, Egypt, during which several initiatives aimed at enhancing science, technology and innovation on the continent were unveiled.

Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, said his country plans more support for African researchers at Egyptian institutions, adding that there would be an increase in scholarships offered to students from the continent at levels of the university and postgraduate studies.

“Sisterly African countries will also have access to Egyptian universities and research centres in order to conduct joint research,” he told the opening session of the Africa STI Forum.

Egypt will also increase the number and cash value of prizes offered to young African researchers by its state-run Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Abdel Ghaffar said without providing figures.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attended the 10 February opening of the forum that ran for three days.

Many African higher education ministers, researchers and academics attended the event co-organised by the African Development Bank and the Egyptian government. South Korea and Japan supported the forum.

African Development Bank

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said his institution has allocated US$42 million to establish a pan-African university to boost the continent’s STI drive. “Our aim is to establish a world-class regional university to lead Africa in science and technology.”

The bank has also invested US$13 million to support the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Institute, aimed at strengthening higher-level training and research in engineering, science, technology and innovation, Adesina added.

He said Africa has about 14 million students in higher education, or 6.4% of global higher education enrolments. But less than one third are enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

“We are literally in a race against time,” Adesina said in a speech delivered at the opening of the forum. “In the context of the fourth industrial revolution, with rapid growth in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetic engineering and big data analytics, it's clear that Africa needs to do more not to be left behind.”

He called for the promotion of a “culture of innovation” focused on young Africans. “The youth are Africa's most important sovereign wealth. With Africa projected to have over 840 million youth by 2050, the continent will brim with the youngest population on earth.”

Islamic Development Bank

Addressing the forum, Bandar Hajjar, the head of the Islamic Development Bank, announced the creation of a US$500 million STI fund to finance projects in healthcare, education, water and agriculture. The Islamic Development Bank is a financing institution based in Saudi Arabia.

Hajjar said his bank plans to launch an online platform for innovators around the world.

"Through this platform, the bank seeks to provide innovative solutions to the developing countries to support sustainable development and link innovators to financiers in both the public and private sectors," Hajjar added.

Yongsoo Hwang, a senior research fellow emeritus at the Science and Technology Policy Institute in South Korea, said his country is willing to support Africa’s transformation initiatives for industrialisation and to improve people’s lives, based on South Korea’s experiences in socio-economic transformation.

Participants at the Cairo forum pledged to set up an African development education fund to attract “sustainable financing” in partnership with the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.

The pledge was made in a final statement dubbed the ‘Cairo Declaration’.

They promised to adopt policies promoting gender equality in education and higher education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A third pledge was made to assist small and medium-sized enterprises in innovative fields, such as electronics, computer science, automation and telecommunications. This aim will be pursued by encouraging the private sector to develop platforms and incubators for start-ups.

They agreed to foster Africa’s higher education institutions and public research organisations “in order to build a solid and relevant human capital base and enhance research and development”.

Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, lauded the pledges, saying that the Cairo Declaration would help reshape and re-orientate the continental bloc’s programmes and policies.

“Our greatest potential is our people,” said Agbor. “Africa is in a position to harvest the fruits of a demographic dividend, especially the young population whose energy, creativity and courage must drive Africa’s development. Investing in their education, technical competences and training therefore remains critical to us,” she said.