From May 8-10, 2024, the Regional Facilitation Units for the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE) projects—the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA)—in collaboration with the World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD), and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), convened over 400 higher education stakeholders for the maiden ACE International Partnership Workshop. This high-level event was hosted at the Intercontinental Mauritius Resort, Balaclava Fort in Mauritius, and featured prominent government officials from Europe and Africa, representatives from the private sector, university leaders (Vice Chancellors), ACE academics from host institutions, and experts from policy think tanks and development partner organizations. 

The closing ceremony of the ACE International Partnership workshop marked a significant milestone in the journey of the ACE initiative. Dr. Robertta Bassit, Task Team Lead for ACE II and Global Lead for Tertiary Education at the World Bank, expressed her pleasure in being part of an initiative that has demonstrated remarkable growth, overcoming challenges to achieve impressive results. She appreciated the efforts of the IUCEA and the AAU teams for the successful organization of the event. Dr. Bassit underscored the inspirational commitment of the Vice Chancellors of the ACE participating institutions to supporting the community of African research and excellence. While stressing that the next steps after the ACE programme were being discussed within the World Bank, she encouraged key stakeholders to think ahead about the future of ACE beyond its current phase, by engaging with National and Regional Steering Committees to envision and proposing sustainable models. Highlighting the World Bank’s role as a bridge, she called on the centres to prepare for the eventual departure of World Bank support, by ensuring that they continue building on the achievements and efforts of the project. 

Transition in Leadership and Appreciation 

Dr. Ekua Nuama Bentil, a Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank and the ACE Impact Task Team Lead, expressed her gratitude to all participants, especially those from the US and Europe, as well as the ACE Impact and ACE II teams. She noted the importance of familiarizing the ACE stakeholders from the two teams with each other and strengthening collaborations, and praised the work done so far in making the centres globally visible. Dr. Bentil, who has been integral to ACE I, ACE II, and ACE Impact, announced her transition to another unit within the World Bank, introducing Dr. Namrata Tognatta as her successor and encouraging the teams to support her. Wrapping up her delivery, she said that the ACE programme, as evidenced by its numerous achievements, had reaffirmed that ‘Africa can’, and therefore it is expected that the project moves only upwards from now on. 

Mauritius Government’s Commitment to Higher Education 

Dr. Anjusha Durbarry, representing the Government of Mauritius, expressed appreciation on behalf of the Ministry of Education and the Higher Education Commission to the ACE community for hosting the maiden international partnership workshop in Mauritius. She highlighted the successful engagement with Mauritian higher education institutions, including the University of Mauritius, the University of Technology, Mauritius, the Open University of Mauritius, and the Mauritius Institute of Education. Dr. Durbarry affirmed Mauritius’s pride in Africa’s growth and commitment to innovation and collaboration. She commended the key achievements of the ACE programme, which were highlighted in the presentations by different stakeholders and through her participation in the event’s activities.

Reflections and Future Directions 

Prof. Gaspard Banyankimbona, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, commended all stakeholders for their contributions, emphasizing the workshop’s success in achieving its goals of peer learning, promoting collaborations, and strengthening private sector partnerships. He praised the teamwork between AAU and IUCEA and underscored the importance of the sustainability of the ACE programme. Prof. Banyankimbona reiterated IUCEA’s commitmentto supporting the centres in continuing their key roles as regional hubs of knowledge and impact. 

For his part, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities, Prof. Olusola Bandele Oyewole, appreciated Dr. Ekua Bentil’s contributions to the ACE Programme over the years and expressed a desire for continued collaboration, even as she moves to another role within the World Bank’s system. He outlined other initiatives that the AAU is engaged in, including the “Study in Africa” program aimed at promoting African universities as premier education destinations, and underscored the willingness of the AAU to promote the centres and collaborate with them under these initiatives. Prof. Oyewole also highlighted AAU’s role in championing the Pan African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency and the Youth Mobility Scheme to promote staff and student mobility across African universities, including the Centres of Excellence. 

In his closing remarks, Prof. Oyewole expressed satisfaction with the event’s outcomes, urging participants to implement the key takeaways and action points. He reaffirmed AAU’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and good governance, offering AAU as a resource for stakeholders looking to grow various initiatives. 

The event concluded with appreciation to all participants and organizers, and with a special acknowledgment to the Mauritian officials for hosting the event and to Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire for her leadership of the ACE Impact team at AAU. The celebration of ACE at 10 years was also mentioned, with an event due to hold in September, as part of the activities to mark a decade of significant contributions to African higher education and research.