Centres of Excellence project bequeaths research hubs

The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) plans to establish regional research hubs in at least four universities that are hosting the Eastern and Southern African Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE II) at a cost of US$2 million.

In a move that will be preceded by the setting up of incubation centres in the institutions, later transiting into research centres, selected universities will each receive up to US$250,000 to help them set up the hubs.

The amount will go towards improvement of infrastructure and for supporting selected projects.

The incubation centres, also to be known as “learning factories” will bring universities and industry together, providing graduate students and faculty with a platform to commercialise their research and academic output, says the IUCEA.

The four regional research hubs will represent all the disciplines of the World Bank-funded initiative, including industry, agriculture, health, and education and statistics, which have been identified as priority areas for the socio-economic growth of target countries.

“Through establishment of incubation centres, we aim to develop the region’s four best ACEs into regional research hubs that will demonstrate the pathways for the transformation of research outcomes into innovative products or policies,” the IUCEA said in last month’s edition of the ACE II newsletter.

Universities to host the centres will be picked competitively, according to a call issued by the regional universities body, and will depend on existing facilities, including laboratories, working spaces and offices and internet infrastructure, among other criteria.

The quality and volume of education and research produced by an institution, and its proximity to an industrial nucleus, or its established relationship with industry will also be a factor, as will ability to co-finance the incubation centre, and clear strategies demonstrating sustainability of a hub beyond ACE II’s five years' lifespan.

“Implementers of ACE II Project should strive to ensure that research findings and innovation outputs generated are turned into tangible and impactful products and services for the socio-economic development of society,” according to IUCEA.

They should also place emphasis on promotion of entrepreneurship, and the facilitation of businesses to develop, register and commercialise trademarks, copyrights and patents, it adds.

While all the 24 centres taking part in the initiative are free to send in requests to host the incubations, only applications that pass eligibility screening by the Regional Facilitation Unit, the IUCEA secretariat that manages ACE II, will be considered for selection.

“Endorsed proposals will be evaluated by an Independent Selection Panel, using an evaluation protocol in two stages, including a technical assessment by three experts who have knowledge and experience in the respective disciplines, and an in-depth, on-site assessment of the ACEs whose proposals will have been short-listed from the first stage by a team of experts,” the IUCEA document notes.

A total of 24 centres based in universities in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique have been offering masters and doctorate scholarships to students from the region since 2017.

Over the five-year duration of the project, the ACEs plan to publish 1,500 journal articles, launch more than 300 research collaborations with the private sector and other institutions, besides other academic and research outputs such as patents.