Pan African University grows, but also faces challenges

The African Union-run Pan African University (PAU) has been attracting a growing number of postgraduate students since its establishment in 2012, and its research and development thrust has seen the registration of patents, the publication of academic articles and the establishment of innovation and entrepreneurship hubs.

But the institution, which has been operational for a decade, is also facing challenges, said Professor Mohammed Belhocine, the AU commissioner for education, science, technology and innovation, at a media briefing on 14 July.

Financial sustainability is a challenge and “we intend to continue working with many of our bilateral or multilateral partners, among which the African Development Bank, which has supported the first phases of PAU’s development,” he said.

Another challenge is to get continental and international accreditation of PAU by meeting all the required criteria.

“These challenges shouldn’t overshadow the huge achievements … as they speak a lot to the real Pan African dimension of the university and the quality of the training offered,” he said.

What is the PAU?

The university consists of five institutes located in Western, Eastern, Central, Northern and Southern Africa.

The Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI) in East Africa is hosted by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya; the Institute for Life and Earth Sciences (PAULESI) in West Africa is based at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria; the Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences (PAUGHSS) in Central Africa is hosted by the University of Yaoundé II in Cameroon; the Institute for Water and Energy Sciences, including Climate Change (PAUWES) in North Africa is hosted by the University of Tlemcen in Algeria and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa has been matched with the Institute for Space Sciences (PAUSS).

PAU was established by African leaders to promote quality training, research and innovation on the continent and is seen as a structure to help meet the challenges set out under Agenda 2063, Africa’s development blueprint, as well as the continent’s developmental needs through a continuous injection of highly skilled human resources.

Belhocine said about 50 masters and PhD programmes are offered in key development areas by four of the institutes, some of the areas proposed as priorities by AU member states and regional economic communities.

What has the PAU achieved?

The Pan African Virtual and E-University was also launched in December 2019 to increase the accessibility of academic and professional training across the continent with online courses.

Belhocine said the institution is a continent-wide university offering masters and doctoral programmes with the aim of establishing an academic network of already existing postgraduate and research institutions and continuously injecting high-skilled human resources that will help spur the development of our continent, Africa.

High-level skills have been developed as the university has, since its inception, awarded about 3,000 scholarships, across regions and countries, to pursue masters and PhD degrees.

During the 2012-21 period, Pan African University students and staff published about 600 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and nine patents were registered.

The number of applications for postgraduate study at the PAU has increased significantly over the past eight years, in particular. For example from 5,403 to 13,048 (who applied between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years) to 14,007 (who applied in the 2020-21 academic year).

“First of all, the number of applicants is always on the rise. It increased by 241% between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years. Following the call for PAU scholarship applications on 15 June 2021 for the 2021-22 academic year, 10,789 applications were received,” he said.

About 8,660 of the applications were for the MSc-MA programmes and there were 8,422 male candidates and 2,367 female applicants.

“After deliberations, a total of 436 students were admitted to PAU institutes (271 male and 165 female students),” Belhocine said.


Last year, the university launched the Pan African University Innovation Challenge as a way to develop students’ potential, including innovation and entrepreneurship hubs.

PAUSTI launched an Incubation Centre for Excellence to spur creative thinking and collaborative problem-solving and promote technology innovations as well as test and commercialise new ideas.

PAUWES and PAULESI also launched their own programmes while PAUGHSS will set up its incubation hub in due course.

Belhocine said the university has recorded several alumni success stories, with women holding their own.

In one instance, a former female student from Burkina Faso (part of the first cohort of PAUWES students), has become a company CEO and was selected for the conference of the Women Entrepreneurs in Africa project 2019. She was shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2019.

The university issued a call in July for those who want to study in the 2022-23 academic year, saying it was looking for “young, qualified, talented and enterprising applicants from African countries and the Diaspora” to apply to join masters or PhD degree programmes.