ACE International Partnership Workshop: Experts Brainstorm Innovative Solutions to Africa’s Water and Agriculture Challenges

In May 2024, the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) program held its inaugural international partnership workshop. Over 400 higher-education stakeholders, researchers, and innovators from over 20 countries convened in Mauritius to foster partnerships and chart a sustainable path to Africa’s development, through the ACE program’s contribution. Several sessions were organized according to the ACE initiative’s thematic areas to ensure a well-coordinated workshop and fruitful deliberations. Session III featured a panel discussion focused on the research and innovations being conducted by the Centres of Excellence in the thematic areas of Water and Agriculture. Moderated by Dr Uchechi Obinna, a researcher at the Centre of Expertise Water Technology (CEW), Leeuwarden in The Netherlands, the session aimed to foster an engaging and dynamic discussion on current research, innovation, and partnerships, particularly among the African Centres of Excellence and the European Centres of Excellence in the water and agriculture sectors. 

The esteemed panel of speakers included Prof. Harouna Karambari, Coordinator of the Centre of Excellence for Training and Research in Water Sciences and Technologies, CEA 2iE, Burkina Faso; Prof. Eric Danquah, Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), Ghana; Dr Hans Komakech from the Water Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy Centre for the Futures (WISE FUTURES), Tanzania; and Dr Sera Gondwe from the Centre of Excellence in Transformative Agriculture Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship (TACE), Malawi. The other panelists were Messrs Pieter De Jong from the Wetsus European Centres of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology, The Netherlands; Olof Blomqvist from the Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), Lund University, Sweden; and Matija Zulj, Founder and CEO of the Digital Agriculture Solutions for Agri-Food Value Chain (AGRIVI), a specialized AgTech company that delivers farm management softwares. 

Image of Prof Danquah

The session commenced with a discussion on agriculture and water innovations and emphasised the significance of these areas for development in Africa and globally. 

Speakers from the various participating Centres of Excellence demonstrated strong performances across key performance indicators (KPIs) in these thematic areas. They discussed various topics such as water treatment, digital education, agricultural innovation, and research and their associated challenges, raising concerns about issues related to water, agriculture, and contamination, particularly in regions known for e-waste contamination like Nigeria and Ghana and emphasising the need to explore areas of potential collaborations in addressing these safety and pollution issues. They also discussed the impact of agricultural programmes in West Africa, including specific examples of successful initiatives, partnerships, and future goals, and outlined clear next steps, which emphasised the importance of collaboration, innovation, commercialization, and strategic management in dealing with the related challenges. 

Challenges and Interventions

The panellists highlighted some of Africa’s development challenges. They identified malnutrition, low food production, and hunger as some of the numerous challenges in Africa, revealing that one out of every five Africans suffers from chronic hunger. They also mentioned the impact of climate change, loss of soil fertility, and the barriers to technology adoption in agriculture, especially the cost of technology.  

In tackling Africa’s numerous challenges, especially the issues of malnutrition, low food production, and chronic hunger, the speakers of this all-important session acknowledged the significant contributions of various interventions, such as the establishment of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) in Ghana, the Regional Centre of Excellence on Avian Sciences (CERSA) in Togo, and other Centres of Excellence in other countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, Nigeria, Niger, and Senegal. 

The speakers also unanimously emphasised the importance of international partnerships and collaborative research for the centres of excellence to consolidate their contributions and achieve sustainable impact. In terms of these international partnerships and research impact, reference was made to, and lessons drawn from, the success stories of the establishment of Wetsus European Centres of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology and their international collaborations with countries like Kenya and South Africa and partnerships with development organisations like the World Bank Group. 

In his presentation, Wetsus’s Pieter De Jong emphasised the importance of collaborations and partnerships, especially to overcome the barriers to technology adoption in agriculture. He expressed his Centre’s continual commitment to ensuring effective water treatment, enhancing digital education, and supporting appropriate tailor-made technology solutions. To this end, Pieter revealed Wetsus’s imminent plan to launch the World’s first water MBA programme and a special Water-For-All Programme, aimed at enrolling students in solution-oriented programmes in Europe. 

He also outlined the organisation’s plan to work on implementing carbon filters, testing water filters, developing standards, and establishing digital education centres in collaboration with partners to provide safe water and enhance learning opportunities. 

On agricultural innovation and partnerships, Wetsus aims to commercialise crop varieties, support entrepreneurship activities, and leverage regional and international partnerships to enhance agricultural innovation and agribusiness ventures. 

Proposed Solutions and Key Next Steps

For impactful research and innovation in the water and agriculture sectors, the panellists proposed engaging in dialogue and generating ideas in tackling current challenges and fostering future collaborations and partnerships between Africa and Europe. They also emphasized optimism that such collaborations and partnerships between the two continents will occur despite possible financial challenges. 

The panellists outlined some collaboration strategies in research projects, emphasising the need to coordinate research projects and prioritize infrastructure investments to create impact and optimise water systems for better efficiency. They also agreed on the importance of selecting a few strategic research partners and industry collaborators for effective collaborations, emphasising quality over quantity. 

To ensure efficient private-public partnerships and innovation collaboration, participants expressed the need to seek guidance from institutions with experience in forming partnerships to avoid common mistakes and accelerate the commercialisation of innovations. 

In terms of commercialisation of research findings, the speakers discussed the approach of translating research findings into practical applications, identifying innovations, supporting innovations, protecting IPs, and collaborating with partners for commercialisation. The next steps also involved assessing the readiness levels of innovators, supporting them, and moving towards specialisation. The speakers highlighted the importance of partnering with internal and external institutions, focusing on common goals, leveraging partnerships, and identifying value within partners to drive commercialisation. 

The session was a testament to global collaboration for innovative water and agriculture solutions, covering discussions on agriculture and water innovations, and emphasising their significance for development not only in Africa but globally. Panellists shared great insights on the importance of focusing on innovations in these areas, underscoring the shared commitment to addressing the associated global challenges. Clearly there are immense opportunities for ACEs to collaborate and partner among themselves and also with institutions in Europe and elsewhere. 

ACE International Partnership Workshop: Centres of Excellence Showcase Groundbreaking Innovations

In a landmark event aimed at showcasing the transformative potential of academic research and innovations by the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) and promoting the forging of partnerships between stakeholders from Africa and other continents, the ACE Programme hosted its maiden Partnership Workshop in May 2024 in Mauritius.  

The dynamic Pitching Session, a key highlight of the workshop, presented groundbreaking innovations developed by the ACEs.  The session for the presentation of these innovative projects that address critical societal challenges, was facilitated by Dr. Danica Ramljak, a Senior Science and Innovation Consultant at the World Bank, and her team of experts. The World Bank’s presence, represented by Dr. Namrata Tognatta, Senior Education Specialist and ACE Impact Task Team Lead underscored the importance of these projects and the investment opportunities they offer.   

The innovations presented by the Africa Centres of Excellence during the session are not only scientifically robust but also commercially viable. They address pressing global challenges and offer substantial investment opportunities for stakeholders in the private sector. Investors are invited to collaborate with these centres to bring these game-changing innovations to market and contribute to societal advancement while reaping substantial financial returns. These commercialisable innovations serve as a powerful testament to the impact of academic research and its potential to drive economic and social transformation across Africa. 

Overall, 13 innovative projects were showcased during the session, highlighting the impressive range of solutions developed by teams of renowned subject-matter experts from the centres. Though only a selection of projects was presented due to time constraints, the centres have many more outstanding projects to share with interested parties and collaborators. A brief highlight of each presentation is provided below: 

  

  1. CEFOR Enterprise Resource Planning Software – an innovation by the Africa Centre for Oilfield Chemicals Research (ACE-CEFOR), University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.One of the standout presentations was by the Centre for Oilfield Chemicals Research (ACE-CEFOR) from the University of Port Harcourt. The team, represented by its Centre Leader and its ICT Head, Mr. Daniel Okone, showcased their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. The university, known for its entrepreneurial spirit and robust intellectual property and technology transfer, has developed this ERP software to revolutionize resource management and organizational administration. The software offers a comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning solution with multiple modules including E-Administration, E-Projects, E-Monitoring and Evaluation, E-Call for Proposals, E-Procurement, E-Assets/Inventory, E-Accounting/E-Auditing, and Cybersecurity.  It addresses the problem of manual repetitive tasks, low productivity, and high organisational costs. Its all-in-one nature and competitive advantages make it attractive for diverse sectors and stakeholders, including governments, universities, non-profits, corporate organisations, and donor-funded/funding organisations.
     
  2. ToxoRap Test Kit (a molecular diagnostic kit) – invented by the African Centre of Excellence for Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology (ACENTDFB), Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria 

    Another significant innovation unveiled to participants at the pitching session was a molecular diagnostic kit designed for detecting and genotyping Toxoplasma Gondii, the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a water and food-borne zoonotic disease of public health concern with one-third global prevalence (Almeria and Dubey, 2021). Infection of pregnant women and children, especially those who are congenitally infected (infected in the womb), can lead to serious health issues and, in some cases, death. Treatment and effective management of toxoplasmosis is hinged on early detection and accurate diagnosis. The ToxoRap Kit provides results within 4.5 hours, significantly faster than current market solutions, which require 20 -36 hours for diagnostic results to be ready. Additionally, it fills the gap of the current unavailability of a singular diagnostic tool that combines both detection and genotyping, which are  needed to foster effective treatment procedures.   

    The presentation indicated that the ToxoRap Kit is clinically suitable, sensitive for early diagnosis of toxoplasmosis to the genotypic level and comes with an illustration of the working steps and principle involved in the diagnostic tool, that is, the procedure for collection of samples (blood, fluid, fecal or tissue) from suspected infected person or animal or environment.  The ToxoRap Test Kit has been proven to detect and genotype T. gondii at low infection density and different stages (life cycle) of the parasite, which is not the case for the test kits currently available on the market. 
     

  3. Production and Commercialization of Ghee-based Products – by the Pharm-Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre (PHARBIOTRAC), Mbarara University of Science and Technology, MUST, Uganda. 

    This innovative project seeks to upscale industrial-grade ghee production in Western Uganda in partnership with farmers and establish efficient marketing and distribution systems for the purified ghee and various ghee-based products. Its vision is to convert local resources into high-quality industrial grade raw materials and world-class products. Currently, 70% – 80% of materials are imported for cosmetic and drug production at a commercial level, even though only 1.1 million of the 8.8 million liters of milk produced in Uganda are consumed.  Cow ghee has proven to be excellent for topical drug delivery. So far, products generated from the Purified-Ghee have met industrial-grade specifications, with promising end-user feedback, therefore upscaling production of the industrial-grade ghee and related products will contribute to import substitution and boost farmers’ household income.  A competitive landscape analysis revealed that the Ghee-based products meet a lot more parameters than other products on the market, which are petroleum-based and gel-based. These included antioxidant, anti-aging, and skin cleansing activity. It is also 100% natural and compatible with the human body, has moisturizing effects, and remains stable in aqueous product formulations. 

  4. Development and Evaluation of Rapid Test Kit for Detection of Respiratory Infections by the Africa Centre of Excellence in Materials, Product Development and Nanotechnology (MAPRONANO), Makerere University, Uganda. 

    Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, are a leading cause of hospitalization and mortality among children and the elderly in Uganda and other developing countries. The Centre’s mission is to be a regional leader in the development of low-cost Point-of-Care (POC) Testing devices for respiratory infections. This innovation introduces the added value of a low-cost test kit to the market, as the currently available methods are quite expensive. The team envisions producing test devices that will cost less than 1 USD (each), hence cheaper to use in resource-limited settings. Generally, the team is working on other projects/products, including Covid-19 antibody RDT, RDT for detecting pneumonia-causing pathogens​, and RDT for SARS-CoV-2 detection.
     

  5. Harvest Care (helps to extend the shelf life of farm produce)– Innovation by the Centre of Excellence in Phytochemicals, Textile and Renewable Energy, Moi University, Kenya.

    A total of 1,024,500 metric tons of mangoes are produced annually in Kenya (HCD, 2021); however, losses in quality and quantity occur during the production, postharvest, and processing as well as the supply chain at an estimated 40%–50% of the total output. This loss has dramatically worsened Kenya’s food insecurity and attainment of SDG 2. Harvest Care is, therefore, an innovative product by the Centre of Excellence, which comes in strongly to reduce these food losses.  It is a pure organic liquid product that extends the shelf life of Mangoes, for more than 3 weeks, and can help to greatly reduce financial losses.  Its unique value proposition includes the fact that it is cost-effective as local raw materials are used in its production, it presents no health concerns due to its usage of bio-preservatives. Harvest Care is eco-friendly and requires no electricity in its application. By way of scaling up, other market segments, aside from the mango market, that are targeted include other fruit produce, such as tomatoes, pawpaws, oranges, apples, and avocadoes.   
  6. Chiweto – (Delivering Inclusive Digital Solutions for Farmers) – An invention by the Centre of Excellence in Transformative Agriculture Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi 

    This innovation directly responds to the problem of poor veterinary services offered to farmers, where the current statistics reveal 1:14,139 veterinarian to farmers’ ratio.  There is also lack of information and limited skills to access information, where farmers cannot directly access needed information for their work.  This causes losses in, for instance, the cattle rearing market, where the smallholder dairy industry in Malawi, loses up to $300,000 daily to low mild yield (10/cow/d). Its competitive advantage over other solutions on the market relates to its real-time nature and the interactive functions of the solution. It is also a bundled digital service and can easily be accessed on one’s phone. In addition to offering veterinary information and services to cattle farmers, it has an insurance component that aims at insuring 50,000 cattle in its target countries by 2027. 
     

  7. LAAFI Monitor – by the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso 

    This innovation is based on the LAAFI CONCEPT, which focuses on the management and intelligence of the cold chain for emergency products that are extremely sensitive to heat. One key sector that uses this monitor is the health sector – especially its immunization processes and others.  Another is the agricultural sector, as it records at least 58% of food losses (WFP, 2021).  The monitor captures temperature, humidity levels, has an onboard memory of up to 1 year of data recording and presents a swappable battery. Other products generated by the Centre along these lines include the Laafi Bag (produced in 2018), which serves as an active cooling backpack for pharmaceuticals. The Laafi Monitor, produced in 2021, is also a monitoring device for pharmaceuticals.  The target clients for the products are typically ministries of health, laboratories, UN agencies, ministries of agriculture, private companies, pharmacies, and others.  So far, these LAAFI concepts have been trusted by the Ministry of Health in Burkina FASO, the African Development Bank, and the UNDP’s Accelerator Labs.   

  8. Green AI SUCE (AI-Based Agricultural Supply Chain E-Commerce Application) – by OAK-PARK, ICT-Driven Knowledge Park (OAK-PARK) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria

    This innovation seeks to respond to the problem of wastage that the agricultural sector faces due to the untimely delivery of farm produce directly to consumers, among others.  The supply chain e-commerce application developed by the OAK-PARK team of experts seeks to be the most extensive AI-based smart agricultural supply chain solution in Africa worth $5.01billion profitability with increased 50% GDP. Its offers and solutions are countless, including expanding production, market access, providing real-time monitoring, offering profit maximization strategies, providing data-driven insights, streamlining the supply chain, providing intelligent logistics, and securing financial transactions. 
    The application allows farmers to upload available products and request warehousing and logistics services and financial aid.  Farmers canrent farm machinery and purchase farm inputs among a host of other supply chain requirements. The Green AI-SUCE is designed to respond to farmers’ various requirements. It offers key competitive advantages, such as a digital wallet, being accessible via a mobile phone, offering real-time delivery monitoring and being readily available in Nigeria.   OAK-PARK invites stakeholders and investors to join the team in revolutionizing agriculture in Africa.
     
  9. Modified Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles (ZnO NPs) for Termites Control – Africa Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER), Benue State University, Makurdi, Nigeria 

    This project presents a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for termite control using modified Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles. It presents a solution in response to the devastating ability of termites to inflict structural damage, which poses a significant threat to both urban environments and agricultural landscapes, leading to crop destruction in some cases. To avert termites triggered food shortages and post-harvest food losses, there are various chemical pesticides and insecticides on the market. However, concerns are raised about the environmental impact of such products and their effect on human health. As a response, the project team from the centre modified Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles of different concentrations, with a powerful effect on termite, addressing the limitations of traditional termite control methods. This product is harmless to agricultural produce and humans, as they serve as part of the composition of some human body creams. Additionally, the cost-effectiveness of this product makes it a true game changer in the industry.
     
  10. Antimicrobial Nano-reinforced Bacterial Cellulose Hydrogel (BCH) from Agro-residues: Production and Application in Wound Healing, ACENTDFB, ABU, Zaria, Nigeria

    ACENTDFB has developed a technology for producing high-yield and quality BCH from agro-wastes, which is applicable in treating burns, diabetic foot ulcers, and other conditions. This innovation utilizes genetic engineering and process optimization to obtain high-quality BCH. There is an increasing demand for BCH as pharmaceutical raw material, and ACENTDFB has the technology to respond to this demand. The invention utilised genetic engineering and process optimization to develop a technique for obtaining high yields of BCH from locally isolated microorganisms grown on agro wastes.  
  11. Harnessing the Power of Microalgae to Tackle Malnutrition Sustainably – Presented by the Africa Centre of Excellence in Food and Nutrition Security (CREATES-FNS), the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Arusha, Tanzania

    This initiative targets providing nutrient-dense microalgae-based products that are environmentally friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective, and it has the vision of revolutionizing nutrition using sustainable microalgae-based solutions.  GAIN, 2024 posits that one in three people worldwide suffers from one or multiple forms of malnutrition, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that 795 million people do not get the food they need to live healthy lives. The implications of Malnutrition are dire, as, among others, it contributes to increased mortality rates, reduced productivity and inhibited cognitive and physical development, particularly in children.  

    The solution introduced by CREATES-FNS ranges from the microalgae powder itself to different formulations that emerge from the innovations undertaken by the team. The solution is unique because it uses environmentally friendly, highly productive, and cost-effective microalgae cultivation technology. The centre’s production methodology also increases productivity by 25 times, lowers production costs by more than 50%, and reduces land use by 200 times compared to traditional pond systems, which competitors largely depend on.  This invention is backed by science, continuous research and innovation, thereby ensuring sustainability in producing diverse bioactive nutrients.
     

  12. Production of Cement Using Natural Pozzolanic Material, Water Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy Futures (WISE-Futures) Centre, The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), Arusha, Tanzania 

    This project introduces the value of producing high-quality cement for construction projects, at affordable prices while promoting an eco-friendly environment. The current challenge in the construction venture is that the available ordinary Portland cement emits high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), thereby contributing to environmental pollution. Its energy consumption is also high and its cementing materials have less strength and durability.  

    WISE-Futures has, therefore, developed an innovative production process for cement that leverages natural pozzolanic material.  This product increases the strength of the cementing material by more than 53% and reduces energy consumption and cost by 45% and 12% respectively.  Its CO2 emissions are also reduced by at least 9%. Among others, this product can be used to construct short and high-rise buildings, bridges and dams, highways and railways, blocks and paving, and pre-cast concrete production.  

  13.  Strengthening Ghana’s Tomato Industry – Presented by the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana, Ghana 

This project’s vision is to establish Ghana as a self-sufficient tomato-producing nation by 2025. It targets empowering local farmers with innovative techniques and high-yielding varieties, enhancing food security and nutrition through increased local tomato production, offering profitable opportunities for farmers with high-yielding tomato varieties, reducing dependency on costly tomato imports, and fostering economic growth of the country.  There is a vast tomato supply gap in Ghana, where demand for tomatoes surpasses local production capacity. The challenges include poor yield per hectare and the limited availability of high-quality seeds and farming practices.  The national proposed strategy is to increase local tomato production by 314,000 Metric Tons within three years and introduce high-yielding tomato varieties.  WACCI has, therefore, intervened through its introduction (and production) of certified high-yielding (50 MT/ha) tomato seeds to the Ghanaian market. Its facilitation of on-farm trials and demonstration plots, as well as training programmes for youth and farmers in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), are game changers.  

The significant gap between demand and supply presents a lucrative opportunity for growth and investments.  The current estimated fresh tomato requirement for self-sufficiency in Ghana is 1.8 – 2.2 million metric tons, while the local production stands at 510,000 metric tons only. WACCI is therefore calling on investors and collaborators to join the team in empowering farmers and securing Ghana’s tomato future.   

The Call to Investors and Interested Parties

Investors and interested parties with aligned visions and seeking to collaborate with the Africa Centres of Excellence to commercialise these innovations or engage with the centres on these inventions are invited to contact the ACE Programme’s Regional Facilitation Units – The Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Inter-University Council for East Africa, via the indicated Programme Managers: 

ACE Partner Initiative Aligns with ACE Project Expectations

The establishment of 54 Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACEs) across eleven West African countries and Djibouti, under the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project marked a significant milestone in strengthening the capacities of African universities. The Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) an initiative, aimed at offering quality training and research for development, recognised the necessity of creating partnerships and collaborations with international universities and research centers, to extend its primary mandate of enhancing postgraduate education in Africa. 

As a strategy for partnering and collaboration, the ACE Partner project was conceived and designed by the World Bank, the Association of African Universities (AAU), the French Development Agency (AFD), the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (Research Institute for Development) – IRD, and the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria),  France. The primary objective of the project is to foster the positive influence and effective collaboration of thematic research networks among the ACEs. This involves engaging key stakeholders on issues related to promoting quality education and research while addressing essential national and regional development challenges.  

Supported by a financial contribution of 6-million Euros from the World Bank, AFD, and IRD, with an additional in-kind contribution of 700,000 Euros from Inria, the ACE Partner project has made considerable progress. The project comprises 23 ACEs across West African countries, including Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. These centres are organized into four thematic networks: Sustainable Water Management (RES’EAU), Responsible Mining and Sustainable Development (AMR2D), Digital Science and Technology Network (DSTN), and the Network of African Centres of Excellence on Infectious Diseases (WANIDA). Each network focuses on addressing specific regional and global challenges, fostering collaboration, and advancing research and innovation in their respective fields. 

A significant highlight of the initiative’s status and activities was presented during the ACE International Partnership Workshop held in Mauritius from May 8 to 10, which where a dedicated session showcased key achievements, findings, and lessons learned. Led by Dr. Hélène Kirchner, Research Director at the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria), the ACE Partner initiative has reached impressive milestones over the past four years, focusing on building synergies, launching joint actions, and ensuring sustainability. 

Key Achievements 

In 2021, the ACE Partner initiative prioritized creating strong synergies among participating ACEs. This exercise involved forging robust scientific links, setting up an action plan, and establishing concrete collaborations. Efforts were also directed toward establishing governance structures, seeking synergies, enhancing mutual knowledge, and strengthening trust among the centres. 

Havingestablished these, the initiative moved to launch joint actions in 2022. This phase featured research collaborations, international co-publications, co-supervision of thesis grants, and joint scientific projects. Additionally, key components included hosting training sessions, organizing and participating in international scientific events like COP 21, engaging with the socio-economic environment, fundraising, lobbying, and expanding networks.  

Since the funding duration for the ACE Partner initiative was set to end in February 2024, sustainability became a critical focus in 2023. Networks began putting together joint responses to local, national, and international calls for proposals such as ARISE, Erasmus, MOBAF, IDF, NIH, NSF, and from institutions such as Wellcome Trust, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other efforts included developing joint actions, committing to regional and transdisciplinary actions around the SDGs, promoting pan-African research on the international stage, and sharing a global vision on pressing issues. 

The ACE Partner project has recorded remarkable results, including 52 fellowships, 40 research projects with ACEs, 73 publications, 8 startup projects, 61 training sessions organized with ACEs, and 4.4 million Euros raised in externally generated funds.  

The initiative’s purpose was to understand and work to meet ACE Impact’s expectations including facilitating mobility for researchers and students, fostering collaborative research projects and securing inter-ACE theses grants for researchers and students. Other’s included fostering collaborative research projects and seeking funding and international collaborations, providing capacity building for ACEs, such as training in preparing responses to calls for tender, pooling resources and sharing experiences between ACEs, as well as supporting the achievement of ACE Impact initiatives. ACE Partner has effectively met these expectations, as evidenced by its accomplishments in building synergies, launching joint actions, achieving project results, and working to ensure its sustainability.  

Findings   

To assess the ACE Partner’s impact on the participating ACEs and the prospects for sustaining its networks, an internal assessment survey was conducted to obtain feedback and perspectives from ACEs. The survey covered five areas: research, resource sharing, higher education, transfer and innovation, and sustainability. 

The survey results indicated that Research was rated at 72%, Resource Sharing at 53%, Sustainability at 49%, Higher Education at 47%, and Transfer and Innovation at 43%. Overall, the initiative received positive feedback, with 43% and 33% of responses from ACEs respectively indicating a strong impact on the centres. Only 5% of respondents reported little impact on the project, marking a positive assessment of the initiative’s impact. 

Lessons Learned  

The respondents’ feedback provided a clear mandate for the continuation of certain activities. Specifically, the Higher Education Impact assessment revealed that training and mobility initiatives were strongly endorsed for continuation. Additionally, the Research impact assessment showed high ratings for the joint response to national, regional, and international tenders, inter-ACE research projects, master’s and thesis scholarships, workshops on priority themes for networks, research capacity-building workshops, and joint publications, signalling their relevance and importance. 

In the area of Knowledge Transfer and Innovation, the survey’s responses strongly emphasized the importance of organizing university-industry development workshops to disseminate research-innovation results. There was also a call for the creation of collaborative workspaces, such as open labs, where researchers and students can experiment and develop innovative ideas. Additionally, collaboration between university knowledge transfer and innovation departments was highlighted as crucial. Respondents recommended setting up programmes that allow students and researchers to receive input from industry experts to direct their research toward practical applications. 

Regarding Seeking Funding, respondents suggested the allocation of resources to support innovative projects through grants or funding competitions. They also emphasized the importance of joint R&D activities and industry collaboration and the potential for joint patents resulting from research grants awarded by the network. 

Regarding Sustainability, activities that survey respondents appreciated and recommended to be continued include the identification of regional and international funding opportunities, joint applications for international calls, capacity-building activities, and support in drafting responses to tenders. These activities are seen as crucial for the continued success and impact of the initiative, ensuring its long-term sustainability and effectiveness. 

During the presentation, Dr. Hélène Kirchner, the Research Director at the National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria) indicated that within the ACE Partner project, core networks had been built and consolidated, and the focus on network sustainability had begun. She, however, emphasized the need to strengthen the networks’ autonomy and sustainability in operational activities and financing. 

The presentation highlighted several challenges ahead, despite the project’s success. These include uneven and limited access to connectivity, the co-construction of university-industry projects, developing international contacts, resource sharing, training for support services, positioning of the ACE within the university, and the socio-economic environment of the participating ACEs. Additionally, matching training to socio-economic challenges such as healthcare, cyber-security, artificial intelligence (AI), and the climate crisis were emphasized as areas needing further attention and development. 

The ACE International Partnership workshop served as a platform for network coordinators to share their experiences.  Axel Belemtougri, the RES’EAU Coordinator, commended the project for fostering collaboration in training, resource sharing, and innovation. While acknowledging the strong individual capabilities of each centre, Belemtougri highlighted that collaboration leads to even greater success, particularly in securing research grants through joint bids. 

The importance of collaboration took centre stage as Dr. Manfreddy BINYET, the WANIDA Coordinator, highlighted the borderless nature of infectious diseases.  She emphasized that collaborative research holds immense power in generating impactful results that ultimately inform sound policy decisions.  This sentiment echoed the core value of the ACE Partner initiative, fostering collaboration for greater impact. 

Nicaise Ndam, a scientific referent for WANIDA, further underscored this notion by urging the networks to prioritize long-term sustainability.  He reassured them of continued support from scientific partners, emphasizing their commitment to aiding the networks in achieving this goal. 

AAU’s Secretary General, Prof. Olusola Oyewole, who moderated the discussion, enquired about strategies for establishing new networks. In response, Dr. Hélène Kirchner explained that this community should be built on shared goals, clear procedures for collaboration, and a commitment to ongoing evaluation and accountability. 

The session ignited a call for the non-participating ACEs to form new partnerships and networks amongst themselves as such collaboration platforms have the potential to significantly expand the project’s influence, strengthening the African research landscape to tackle challenges that transcend thematic boundaries.

ACE International Partnership Workshop Concludes: Celebrating Collaborative Achievements and Setting Future Directions

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. 

Graduate Tracer Study Reveals Africa Centres of Excellence Graduates Make Giant Strides

83% of Graduates Gainfully Employed

From 8-10 May 2024 24, a crucial gathering took place in Balaclava, Mauritius, involving stakeholders and (prospective) partners of the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) initiative who convened to respond to the urgent call for regional and cross-continental coordination and collaboration in addressing global challenges related to public health, climate change, food security, energy, water, and other urgent developmental concerns. 

Dubbed the Africa Centres of Excellence International Partnership Workshop, the three-day event brought together higher education representatives from the World Bank, the French Development Agency, the Association of African Universities, the Inter-University Council for East Africa, the African Union Commission, the European Union, the Africa Centres of Excellence, the European Centres of Excellence,  the governments of the participating centres of Excellence, the private sector, and other development agents to deliberate on advancing the 2023 AU-EU Innovation Agenda.  During the meeting, the project profiled its impactful journey and critical initiatives over the last ten years. 

Moderated by Prof. Kouami Kokou, a member of the ACE Impact Project Steering Committee from Togo, Plenary Session VI of the workshop was devoted to disseminating and discussing the outcomes of a survey undertaken to track the perceived performance, progress, and impact of ACE graduates, especially in the areas of research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The survey, titled – ACE Program Graduate Tracer Study, was spearheaded by MyCos Data, an independent Data Survey & Evaluation and Consulting Services Firm based in China, which specialises in higher education management consulting, and the findings were presented by its Vice President of International Partnerships, Kate Wang.  

The 76-day survey had a response rate of 52%, with 4,295 out of 8,308 master’s and doctorate graduates participating. These graduates were from 65 of the 80 ACEs. Of the 4,295 total respondents, 3,818 were master’s graduates, while the remaining 477 were doctorate graduates from the ACEs. 

Survey Results: Research and Academic Activity 

The survey report indicates that the impact of the ACE initiative began manifesting even before its students graduated. According to the report, 68% of master’s graduates got involved in research projects, while 34% had at least one research paper published during their training period.  Additionally, after graduating from the Centres of Excellence, 47% continued to engage in research projects, and 25% published at least one research paper. 

The research and academic achievements of the ACE program were even more profound at the doctorate level. 80% of doctorate graduates responded to being involved in research projects, while 85% indicated having published research papers during their training under the ACE initiative. Of those whom the ACE model impacted after training, 69% were engaged in research projects, and 74% had research papers published. These achievements were despite mitigating challenges, mostly inadequate access to funding but partly challenges with the accessibility of journals and laboratories, physical environments, faculty expertise, and communication with programme administrators and faculty. 

Apart from students and graduates conducting their own research projects during and after the ACE training, at least the doctorate graduates also collaborated with international entities in the form of conferences and projects, which enhanced their research and academic exposure and expanded their worldview beyond the confines of their centres, universities, and countries. 

According to the survey report, 77% of the respondent ACE doctorate graduates collaborated in at least one international research conference, with 10% of them participating in more than five of those conferences during their training. Following graduation from the Centres of Excellence, another 64% of the graduates participated in at least one international research conference, with 14% featuring in more than five such conferences. Regarding international research project collaborations, 45% of the ACE doctorate graduates participated in at least one, with 2% participating in more than five during their training and 50% after graduation, with 3% participating in more than five of those international research project collaborations. 

Respondents also engaged with the private sector during their PhD studies at the ACEs, including participating in private sector-organized conferences, undertaking internships within private sector organizations, working on joint projects, commissioning research, and receiving additional training from the private sector. They also conducted contract research for the private sector and collaborated with their personnel. 

In terms of satisfaction, respondents were generally satisfied with their internships and industry collaboration experiences both on-campus (58%) and off-campus (45%) despite challenges like unhelpful guidance (11%), lack of respect for personal interest (8%), too much academic pressure (7%), difficulty with professional relationships (7%), irrelevance to the study (6%), and insufficient preparation from coursework (6%).  

Survey Results: Employment Status and Quality 

Besides the remarkable collaborative research and academic achievements, the ACE program also reported high employment rates. According to the report, more than half of ACE graduates found employment in various sectors—private entities, state-owned enterprises, state agencies, research institutions and academia, non-profit organizations, foreign entities, and joint ventures—even before graduation. Again, more than half of the remaining graduates also found jobs within the same year of graduation, with the remaining small percentage (about 15%) getting employed after one year. 

Of the 3,818 master’s graduate respondents, 3,169, representing 83%, were gainfully employed during the survey. Again, out of these 3,169 employed ACE masters graduates, 1,648, representing 52%, found jobs before they graduated; another 507 of them, representing 16%, found jobs within the first three months of graduation; 539 (17%) of them within one year of graduation, while the remaining 475, representing 15% got jobs after one year of graduation. 

Regarding the employment of PhD graduates, out of the 477 survey respondents, 415, representing 87%, were fully employed during the survey period. Again, out of these 415 employed ACE doctorate graduates, 245, representing 59%, got their jobs before graduating from the ACE programme; 58 (14%) of them within the first three months after graduation; another 58 (14%) of them within the first year after graduation; and the remaining 54 (13%) getting jobs after one year of graduation. 

Research Results: Entrepreneurship 

Even though more than half of the respondent ACE graduates (53% for master’s and 56% for doctorate) reported being satisfied with their jobs, good percentages also found themselves in entrepreneurship, a critical aspect of the ACE model. For instance, 10% of the respondent ACE masters graduates, and 12% of the respondent ACE doctorate graduates reported being entrepreneurs. Eight out of every 10 of these entrepreneurs (82% for master’s and 77% for doctorate) are working in for-profit sectors, while the remaining two of the 10 entrepreneurs (18% for master’s and 23% for doctorate) are working in non-for-profit organizations, all adding values to themselves and their families and filling developmental gaps through their research areas, sectors, and societies, thanks to the ACE program. 

Moreover, almost all respondent ACE graduate entrepreneurs (94% for master’s and 98% for doctorate) reported being influenced by the ACE model, with more than half in each case reporting a very significant impact of ACE. The aspects of the ACE education that impacted its graduates to become entrepreneurs range from formal training through coursework (69% for master’s and 58% for doctorate), interactions and collaborations with the private sector (45% for master’s and 53% for doctorate), and impact from degree programme mentors (36% master’s and 44% for doctorate). 

Student Satisfaction, Model Usefulness and Influence, and Alumni Recommendations 

Not only did respondents find teaching and learning under the ACE educational model satisfactory, but they also found it very important to their present academic and professional pursuits. While 88% of respondent master’s graduates and 89% of the respondent doctorate graduates were satisfied with the ACE teaching and learning model they experienced, 98% of each of the two groupings found the ACE model useful in their current situations. 

Almost all the ACE graduate respondents were satisfied with the ACE model and would recommend it to others. When asked about their satisfaction rates, 90% of master’s graduates and 93% of doctorate graduates responded that they were satisfied with their experiences during the training, and 95% each of master’s and doctorate respondents answered they would recommend ACE to others and recommend or recruit its products for available jobs. 

Apart from their desire to be invited to engage ACE alumni through recommendations and job openings, respondents would also want to be engaged in multiple other levels, such as being invited to participate in ACE events, facilitate university-industry collaboration, raise funds or donate to the programme, and provide feedback, such as through similar surveys. 

Survey Recommendations 

Ms. Wang rated the 52% survey response rate as relatively high and the findings very credible and reliable and thus commended the respondents for their cooperation and congratulated the ACE program stakeholders on their achievements. She was also optimistic these rates and achievements could further be enhanced in the future and thus recommended the following for stakeholder consideration: 

  1. Encouraging more ACEs and graduates to participate in future surveys. 
  2. Streamlining the data collection process and reducing errors of repetition and inaccurate information. 
  3. Engaging graduates as soon as they leave the programme and from time to time for a stronger relationship. 
  4. Clearly defining what it means to benefit from the ACE programme to students before they graduate. 

MyCos Data is expected to submit the full survey report to its commissioners—the World Bank and the Association of African Universities—within the next few weeks, following the International Partnership Workshop hosted in Mauritius in May 2024. 

Africa Centres of Excellence Project Stakeholders Discuss Practical Instruments and Programs for Supporting Partnerships to Foster Sustainability

A high-level side meeting was held on the 9th of May 2024 to bring together the ACE Impact Project Steering Committee members and the ACE II Regional Steering Committee members to share lessons and discuss their strategies for sustaining the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) beyond the World Bank and French Development Agency funding. Other participants included the representatives from the World Bank, and the leadership teams of the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA). This meeting was hosted as part of the ACE International Partnership Workshop, held in Mauritius, by the project.  

Dr. Kokou Kouami the Chairperson of the ACE Impact Project Steering Committee and Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai the Chairperson of the ACE II Regional Steering Committee jointly chaired the session to engage the seventeen (17) countries that were present. 

ACE II was launched in 2016 and supports 24 centers in 8 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa – these include Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia – and is supported by the IUCEA. In 2022, the World Bank provided additional financing to the ACE II project, supporting 6 agriculture centers in Malawi and Mozambique.  

In 2019, the World Bank, together with the French Development Agency (AFD), launched the third phase of the program: the “ACE for Development Impact Project, ACE-Impact”, following the successful implementation of the ACE I project by the AAU. The ACE Impact project covers 54 centers across 11 countries mostly in Western Africa – these include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Senegal. Across the series of ACE projects, the World Bank has committed US$ 657 million in support of African governments and under the ACE Impact, the AFD is co-financing with a total amount of US$ 72 million. 

 

How ACE II and ACE Impact countries are addressing the sustainability of the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) 

  1. Integrating the ACEs with their host universities – the countries present said that they were making the ACEs part and parcel of the host universities so that they could benefit from annual budget allocations to support their activities. The representatives from Senegal emphasized that the integration of their ACEs to their host institutions also allowed the Senegal ACEs to maintain their financial autonomy so that they are motivated to generate additional resources. 
  2. Lobbying for financial support from national governments – the countries underscored the importance of their governments committing resources to the running of the ACEs. Several countries spoke about embedding the ACEs into national statutes so that they are supported by their national governments. Mrs Jane M. Chinkusu from Zambia shared that they had lobbied their government to direct national scholarships for funding students from their ACEs. In addition, several countries were reported to be lobbying their governments to prioritize contributions to the national research funding agencies who would in turn support the ACEs. The government of Nigeria was reported to have created an annual budget line for the ACEs in Nigeria. 
  3. Leveraging the uniqueness of the ACEs to engage in consultancy and training services was highlighted as an important strategy. The ACEs were initially selected for funding because of the unique niches that they occupy. To sustain their operations, it was recommended that the ACEs should leverage their uniqueness and provide excellent consultancy and training services to their specific thematic areas, industries, and communities. Dr Fahmi Ahmed, from Djibouti mentioned that they were demonstrating the importance of their ACE by designing and delivering unique training services to the logistics and transport industry in Djibouti. 
  4. Focussing on solving real problems and graduating to commercialization and patenting of research products. The ACEs have debunked the myth that African Universities were irrelevant and could not support their national development strategies. Countries that were present agreed that “solving national / regional challenges, being relevant and engaging in commercialization and patenting of products could be an effective sustainability strategy”. 
  5. Engaging in strategic partnerships and joining thematic networks was highlighted as a long-term strategy for achieving sustainability because this enables the ACEs to participate in joint research and collaborations that open avenues for additional funding and support. Mr Carlos Mataruca from Mozambique shared that their ACE for oil and gas was strategically collaborating with SASOL, a global chemicals and energy company. 
  6. Proving the viability of the ACE Model and making achievements visible were also pointed out as being crucial. Dr Edmund Aalangdong mentioned that Ghana was leveraging its national facilitating unit to create visibility of the work of their 9 ACEs and build their capacities. A national tertiary education conference is planned as a national event to create a platform for continuously demonstrating the viability of the ACE model and showcasing the benefits of funding higher education institutions. 
  7. Seeking financial resources from elsewhere by responding to calls for grant funding was also highlighted as another method of sustaining the ACEs. Through partnering and joining thematic networks the ACEs could jointly respond to grant calls to increase their chances of success.  
  8. Leveraging the national facilitating units / national steering committees to strengthen the ACEs was also mentioned by several countries during the meeting. Paul Mungai from Kenya indicated that their National Steering Committee would continue to offer strategic directions to the Kenya ACEs beyond the World Bank funding. Mr Chris Jibreel Maiyaki the acting Executive Secretary of the Nigeria National Universities Commission emphasized the importance of political will in sustaining the ACEs. The Nigerian government has established additional ACEs funded through its national funding agency called the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). 

 

Feedback from the Regional Facilitating Units – AAU and IUCEA 

The Secretary General of the Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Olusola Oyewole emphasized that 10 years support was too little to create sustainable ACEs, he therefore appealed to the World Bank to continue supporting the ACEs. He also said that both the AAU and IUCEA should not abandon the ACEs but continue supporting them, promoting their achievements and lobbying for their support. Professor Oyewole shared eight key points in relation to suggestions for sustaining the ACEs: (1) African governments must prioritize support for their national research funding agencies; (2) African Universities must urgently move from laboratory based research to innovations so that they could attract industry partners; (3) African countries must demonstrate their ownership of the ACEs by supporting them financially and in other ways; (4) Centers of Excellence need to prioritize alternative resource mobilization opportunities; (5) ACEs have introduced excellent practices that should be adopted at the university level – adopting these practices of accountability, procurement, performance based financing and monitoring would lead to the sustainability of the ACES; (6) Partnerships are a great way of building sustainability of the ACEs; (7) When ACEs run demand-driven programmes they are more likely to be sustainable and (8) ACEs are encouraged to learn about the “Study in Africa project”, which is an initiative of the AAU and the European Union.

Professor Gaspard Banyankimbona the Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) said that the results-based funding model had been proven to be effective during the implementation of the ACE projects – and it could be adopted in a follow up ACE project, as it promoted sustainability. He called on the funders of the project to renew their funding and support for the project, given the key achievements obtained and significant impacts made. He highlighted, that as a regional project, the ACE project created important avenues for knowledge sharing, academic mobility, and networking. The East African Community has an existing framework for mobility which could be used to support the sustainability of the ACE projects. Professor Banyankimbona also stated that investing towards incubation centers was key in promoting external funds generation, promoting industry partnerships and eventually leading to sustainable ACEs. 

 

Summary and Conclusions 

Dr Ekua Bentil from the World Bank and the Task Team Lead for the ACE Impact Team said that the meeting had provided an important learning platform. She indicated that several partners were keen and impressed by the work of the ACEs. She concluded by saying that the ACE at ten events planned around July 2024 would be a great opportunity to showcase the project results and create buy-in for additional project support. 

Dr Roberta Bassett, from the World Bank and supporting the ACE II Project stressed the importance of the participating governments expressing their interest in support from the World Bank. 

Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, the Chairperson of the ACE II Regional Steering Committee summarised the meeting discussions by acknowledging that the meeting had been an enriching opportunity. There was no doubt that the ACEs had achieved exceptional results, impacted their communities, and positively impacted their host universities. Professor Mohamedbhai stated that the sustainability question was inevitable and that the proposed solutions seem to border around institutionalization, governments support and actively seeking alternative financial resources. “It is important to market the ACE model to other African countries and share the lessons with them” – said Professor Mohamedbhai.  “The collaboration of the ACEs at a continental level is a great opportunity that the AAU and IUCEA could jointly explore through the ongoing African Union / European Union innovation fund” – concluded Professor Mohamedbhai. 

Advancing Research and Innovation in STEM and Education: Key Insights from the ACE International Partnership Workshop

The Regional Facilitating 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, from May 8-10, 2024 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 organisations. Since 2014, the ACE Program has provided support to over 80 centres within 50 universities across 20 African nations. Its aim is to cultivate and provide top-tier postgraduate education while fostering applied research in crucial sectors such as health, agriculture, ICT, water, transport, energy, education, sustainable mining, environment, and engineering. These ACEs have been pivotal in tackling a range of challenges, including Ebola, Covid-19, sickle cell anemia, maternal and child health-related complications, digital technologies related challenges, food insecurity, and climate crisis.  

The key objective of the Africa Centres of Excellence International Partnerships Workshop was to leverage the collaborative opportunities outlined in the Africa Union-European Union (AU-EU) Innovation Agenda, to foster engagement and knowledge exchange between Africa, Europe, and other continents.  

Overview of the Panel Discussion 

The plenary session four (IV) was a panel discussion held with the objective of having an engaging discussion on current research, innovations and partnerships already occurring within and outside of Africa in the STEM and Education sectors. The moderator, Mrs. Jane M. Chinkusu, Director of Science and Technology at the Ministry of Technology and Science, Zambia, introduced the following panelists:   

  1. Prof. Maïssa Mbaye, African Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and ICT (CEA MITIC), Senegal 
  2. Prof. Raghava R. Kommalapati, National Science Foundation (NSF) CREST Centre for Energy & Environmental Sustainability, United States  
  3. Dr. Luis Lucas, Centre of Studies in Oil and Gas Engineering and Technology (CS-OGET), Mozambique 
  4. Prof. Grace Jokthan, ACE on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL), Nigeria 
  5. Dr. Andrea Ricci, ISINNOVA Institute on Research, Innovation, and Sustainability, Italy (participated virtually) 
  6. Dr. Benjamin Yao, ACE on Valorization of Waste Products with High Value Added (VALOPRO), Côte d’Ivoire. 

Reiterating the relevance of the discussion, Mrs. Chinkusu gave each panelist the platform to share with participants the innovations taking place in their various institutions and centres. 

Key Innovations in STEM & Education Research 

African Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and ICT, Senegal 

Prof. Mbaye unveiled the groundbreaking innovations and research initiatives implemented by the African Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and ICT (CEA MITIC) under his leadership. These initiatives span diverse domains including health, environment, agriculture, applied mathematics, and ICT. In the area of health, CEA-MITIC spearheaded the development of a cutting-edge health information system for sickle cell disease, revolutionizing the diagnosis process and enabling swift data collection for various ailments. This pioneering system has been deployed across multiple healthcare facilities, strengthening the efficiency of healthcare practitioners. 

Additionally, CEA-MITIC delved into the usage of AI for detecting sickle cell disease in newborns, epitomized by the deep learning-based classification of isoelectric focusing images for newborn screening. Shifting focus to environmental concerns, the centre engineered an intelligent, distributed platform for assessing air pollution, leveraging fixed and mobile data collection mechanisms to monitor and mitigate pollution stemming from household waste. Additionally, CEA MITIC’s innovative web and mobile application, powered by Artificial Intelligence, aids in monitoring marine biodiversity by accurately counting freshwater birds. 

A standout project, the Deep4Monitoring Project, is an indication of CEA MITIC’s commitment to cutting-edge technology. This multi-model AI/ML (artificial intelligence / machine learning) platform serves as a robust decision support tool, addressing critical issues such as waste management, flood mitigation, fire prevention, and sustainable land use planning. Prof. Mbaye’s exposition emphasized CEA MITIC’s role as a hub for ICT and AI innovations, transcending traditional academic boundaries. 

NSF CREST Centre for Energy & Environmental Sustainability, USA 

Prof. Kommalapati’s presentation, focused on the accomplishments and innovations emerging from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (CEES). He provided an overview of the centre’s evolution, highlighting its initial emphasis on teaching until the early 2000s. Established in October 2010 with an original funding of $5M from NSF, the centre received an additional $5M in 2019, extending its funding commitment to 2025. 

The core vision of CEES is to cultivate a nationally recognized, multidisciplinary, and self-sustaining community centred around education and research. This vision encompasses leveraging university research infrastructure, fostering productivity, and institutionalizing key research areas. Notably, CEES distinguishes itself through its integrated approach, incorporating research, outreach, and education components. Key areas of focus include collaborative research, partnerships, student enrichment programmes, and community engagement initiatives. 

The centre’s achievements are substantial, with its funding pool expanding to $20M, including contributions from entities such as the National Science Foundation, NASA’s Department of Education, and others. Noteworthy milestones include support for 12 post-doctoral candidates, with 8 transitioning to permanent positions. Additionally, the centre researchers have contributed significantly to scholarly discourse, with publications including one book and 197 articles spanning journal articles, book chapters, and peer-reviewed conference proceedings/extended abstracts. Also, 39 Master of Science theses have been completed, alongside over 250 presentations at various regional, national, and international conferences. In recognition of its accomplishments, CEES achieved the prestigious Carnegie R2 classification in 2021. 

Mrs. Chinkusu expressed her appreciation to the panelists and all participating centres for their remarkable innovative projects. She emphasized the importance of ongoing collaborations and then engaged Dr. Lucas from the centre of Studies in Oil and Gas Engineering and Technology (CS-OGET) in Mozambique. 

Centre of Studies in Oil and Gas Engineering and Technology, Mozambique 

Dr. Lucas, in turn, conveyed gratitude for the positive impact of the ACE Project on institutions in Mozambique, particularly highlighting CS-OGET’s advancement. He discussed the transformation of Universidade Eduardo Mondlade into a research-driven institution and detailed the centre’s collaborations with the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Makerere University in Uganda on nanotechnology applications in drilling processes. 

Among CS-OGET’s notable achievements are upstream and mainstream studies focusing on process safety, control, and optimization. The centre has also ventured into geological studies for oil and gas potential assessment, reserves determination, pay zone identification, and production optimization, including carbon dioxide capture and storage initiatives. Additionally, their exploration of alternative fuels, such as biofuels, and their blending with fossil fuels as part of energy transition studies, represents another significant innovation. Notably, the centre also utilizes cashew nuts to produce environmentally friendly biodegradable lubricants. Dr. Lucas concluded by acknowledging the multitude of innovations while recognizing that similar advancements have also been made by other centres. 

Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning, Nigeria 

Prof. Grace Jokthan highlighted several innovations from the Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL) during her comprehensive presentation on the theme of “Empowering Digital Education in Africa.” ACETEL primarily focuses on leveraging technology within the education sector. Previously, the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) stood as the sole online open and distance learning institution, and ACETEL continues to be dedicated to enhancing infrastructure, capacity building, and sustainability in developing digital education experts. 

ACETEL takes pride in training postgraduate students in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity, with one student currently excelling in Korea, which is a source of immense pride for the centre. Using digital technology, ACETEL has successfully trained over 4,000 participants in short courses and skill-based training programs with broad industry applications across the region. 

In addressing the growing risks in the digital learning environment, ACETEL developed the eGenti Kids Monitoring system, allowing parents to monitor their children’s online activities in real-time. This system provides crucial insights into children’s online behavior, especially as schools increasingly transition to online platforms. Additionally, to support students with visual or health impairments, ACETEL created the Neighbor Health Specialists online application which connects students and healthcare providers in real-time, offering immediate medical attention and referrals to specialists when necessary. 

ACETEL’s commitment to inclusive education is further demonstrated through the ACETEL Mobile Aid, designed to assist visually impaired learners in navigating campuses independently. Innovations like the Vision Link Mouse have revolutionized assessment processes, eliminating the need for additional assistance during exams. The centre also focuses on securing data-centric architecture for learning and utilizes virtual labs to enhance student participation. 

Benefiting from IBM training opportunities, ACETEL engages in immersive STEM Virtual Labs for Remote Learners, a pilot study simulating practical sessions virtually. This initiative aims to transfer practical experiences into the digital realm, facilitating learning for students outside traditional physical environments. 

ISINNOVA Institute on Research, Innovation, and Sustainability, Italy 

Dr. Andrea Ricci also contributed to the discussion by addressing the relevance of his institution, ISINNOVA, in advancing the development of urban smart cities and highlighting other emerging innovations. He provided a brief history of ISINNOVA, noting its establishment in Rome in 1971 as an independent research institute focusing on research, training, awareness, and consultancy services. The institute collaborates with a diverse network of national and international experts. 

Dr. Ricci elaborated on ISINNOVA’s transformation journey, emphasizing its focus on urban mobility and sustainable development. Through extensive horizon scanning exercises, ISINNOVA identified key transport drivers likely to shape future technological advancements in sustainable mobility. This foresight led to the development of scenarios influencing policy formulation in the short term. 

One of ISINNOVA’s notable innovations, CIVITAS, aims to assist national and local governments in planning, designing, and implementing sustainable solutions to enhance urban mobility. Technology plays a pivotal role in these endeavors, significantly impacting people’s lives by facilitating sustainable and efficient urban transportation solutions. 

African Centre of Excellence for the valorization of waste into high value-added products, Cote d’Ivoire 

Prof. Yao began his presentation by highlighting the focus of the African Centre of Excellence for the valorization of waste into high value-added products (VALOPRO), on the circular economy, emphasizing their efforts to minimize waste. He mentioned that the centre engages in laboratory activities where students conduct research to identify prototypes, validate products, and develop marketing plans. Given that the country is the largest producer of cocoa, the centre conducts research on utilizing cocoa waste to create water filters. 

Regarding partnerships, Prof. Yao mentioned collaborations with various industries and institutions, including IMPHB and other state institutions, to further their research goals. Additionally, the centre has academic partnerships for biotechnology research with institutions in Africa and Europe. 

Partnership and Collaboration Strategies 

Speaking on the strategies used to establish partnerships with companies in both the government and private sectors, Dr. Ricci explained that they seek out teams with similar interests and integrate compatible competencies at the technical knowledge level. They also incorporate social sciences and humanities to understand the impact of modern technology, leveraging their extensive network. Additionally, they collaborate with EU-funded institutions that share similar interests and ensure active participation in research projects through workshops, thereby building and engaging research networks. 

Dr. Ricci further mentioned the development of an innovative tool to promote solutions that span technological and environmental aspects, drawing from successful experiments in various regions. This tool is being introduced to raise awareness and transform the sector it serves. 

In response to the question regarding partnerships and future expansion, Prof. Grace elaborated on the current collaborations that bolster the centre’s progress and development. She classified these partnerships into various categories, including academic collaborations such as DSTN, consisting of 6 centres working together on research, resource mobilization, research dissemination, entrepreneurship training, and capacity building. ACETEL ensures that each PhD student has two academic supervisors and one from industry to foster collaboration between academia and industry for demand-driven research and purposeful studies.  Prof. Grace Jokthan of ACETEL also mentioned collaborations with public sector agencies, particularly in ICT for education, and highlighted the centre’s collaboration with EFCC for cyber security research using their forensic laboratory. Prof. Jokthan emphasized the ongoing need for collaboration and engagement with relevant stakeholders to propel the centre’s activities forward. 

Continuing the discussion, Prof. Luis highlighted the dynamic nature of collaborations in the oil and gas sector. For each of their master’s degree programs, they involve at least two major companies in designing the curricula to align with industry demands. These companies also support the implementation of these programs, with lectures including foreign experiences to enrich student learning. Internship opportunities provided by these companies offer students hands-on experience even before completing the program, aiding in research data collection, and designing solutions to identified problems. 

Prof. Kommalapti contributed to the discussion by noting that when the NSF CEES centre was established, one of their primary goals was to ensure its sustainability even after the NSF funding ends. This drive led them to forge robust partnerships and networks within the university, persuading administrators of the importance of the centre’s continuity. Additionally, the centre boasts of a strong external advisory board comprising members from academia and industry. Leveraging this board, they have connected with numerous opportunities to secure additional funding and research support. The centre has also collaborated with other universities on joint proposals to secure funding. They also facilitate e-mentoring for students, enabling them to maintain close relationships with their mentors through virtual platforms, which enhances their prospects of securing jobs after graduation. 

 Prof. Mbaye highlighted the establishment of multidisciplinary partnerships as their initial focus at CEA MITIC. These partnerships involve industry stakeholders such as doctors and environmental specialists who directly address identified issues. He underscored the fact that partnership serves as a gateway to other collaborations, including those involving parks, forests, and governmental structures related to wildlife conservation, which align with their ongoing projects. They also engage in scientific partnerships, particularly with American universities, diversifying their collaborations. Additionally, their partnership with Stanford University has facilitated international exposure for their research results, aiding in North-South collaboration efforts. 

Conclusion 

As the session concluded, with the moderator giving an overview of the discussion and highlighting the relevance of partnerships, it was evident that the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) project, has made significant contributions to the development of the continent’s higher education sector. The international partnerships workshop served as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue, collaboration, and action. The insights shared by the panelists serve as guidelines for future endeavors, inspiring a shared vision of a prosperous and sustainable Africa driven by research, innovation, and inclusive partnerships.  

Africa’s Centres of Excellence Engage in Dialogue on AU-EU Innovation Agenda

The Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) International Partnerships Workshop themed “Building Pathways Towards Sustainability through Collaborative Research and Innovation” was held in Mauritius from May 8-10, 2024. The first session was a panel discussion on the African Union (AU)/European Union (EU) innovation agenda that was jointly adopted in July 2023 by the AU and the EU. This session was given priority on the first day of the partnership workshop because of the potential opportunities that the AU/EU innovation agenda presents to the ACE Projects being implemented by 80 centers in more than 50 universities and in 20 African countries. The session held strategic significance as it addressed the pressing need to explore avenues for sustaining the ACE Projects. This involves fostering diverse partnerships, strategic collaborations, and seeking alternative financial resources to ensure the continuation of the commendable efforts of the ACEs beyond their current funding period (2025). To address the complex and interlinked challenges presented by public health, climate change, food security, energy, water, and others it is important to prioritize regional and cross-continental coordination and collaboration. It is expected that by teaming up with partners to capitalize on economies of scale, the ACE Projects can accelerate and enhance development and economic gains for the African countries involved.  

About the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) Innovation Agenda 

The AU-EU Innovation Agenda seeks to bolster collaboration in research and innovation (R&I) between the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), while boosting the innovative capabilities of researchers and innovators from both continents. This is hoped to be achieved by facilitating the transformation of research outcomes into concrete outputs like products, services, businesses, and employment opportunities. 

The priority areas of the agenda are namely – Public Health, Green Transition, Innovation and Technology, Capacities for Science, and Cross-cutting issues. The five additional key areas in which AU-EU agreed to strengthen their cooperation are: (a) development of innovation ecosystems (b) innovation management, (c) knowledge exchange, including technology transfer, (d) access to finance, and (e) human capacity development.  

Potential alignment of the AU-EU Innovation Agenda to the ACE program: 

The AU-EU agenda has made it a priority to set up AU-EU Centers of Excellence, aiming to pioneer innovative institutional partnerships with significant transformative potential. The ACE project has similarly focused on establishing more than 80 centers of excellence across West, Central, East, and Southern Africa, including Djibouti. 

Investing in research and innovation infrastructures as part of the AU-EU agenda aligns with the objectives of the ACE program, which prioritizes enhancing the impact and sustainability of cooperation. The ACE program has concentrated on fortifying research and innovation infrastructures by investing in top-notch laboratories, cutting-edge teaching facilities, and robust internet infrastructure and services. 

The AU-EU agenda is leading the way in promoting the successful ARISE initiative, which offers funding to exceptional African researchers at mid-career and senior levels. Likewise, the ACE Project has placed a premium on investing in academic mobility and training the next generation of academics, aiming to enrich the African higher education landscape.

Panel session deliberations 

Overview of the ACE Program 

The session moderator, Mr. Ian Forde, a Human Development Program Leader, with the World Bank Group, explained the AU-EU Agenda and discussed its alignment with the ACE Program. The ACE Impact and ACE II Program Managers, Dr Sylvia Mkandawire, and Professor Meshack Obonyo presented an overview of the ACE Program. 

The ACE is the first large-scale regional program in the Higher Education sector in Africa to be funded by the World Bank. It was described by Professor Obonyo as a series of regional Higher Education projects that aim to improve Education, Training and Applied Research at the post-graduate level in key priority fields, that include Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), Agriculture, Health, Education and other related fields. “The program has provided technical and financial support to the higher education sector in Africa since 2014 (investing US$ 650 million with US$ 72 million in co-financing from AFD)”, added Professor Obonyo. 

Dr. Mkandawire emphasized the significance of the 16 ACE Regional Thematic Networks initiative, which has facilitated collaborative grant applications, joint research endeavors, and publications. It has also encouraged the sharing of specialized equipment and personnel, the development of courses through co-creation, student and faculty mobility between participating institutions, organization of regional and international research symposia, summer schools, and the cultivation of robust academic and industry partnerships. Since its inception in 2014, the ACE Program has trained around 77,000 students, published 9,000 research articles, established 126 internationally accredited programs, and generated an additional revenue of US$ 171 million. 

The ACE Program identifies potential synergies and partnerships in student and faculty exchanges, research and innovation collaborations, engagement with scientific advisory boards, joint seminars, and workshops, as well as partnerships with industry and non-academic stakeholders. There is an increasing interest and ample opportunities for ACEs to broaden partnerships with European Universities. ACEs have already initiated collaborations with several European universities and consortia, indicating a promising avenue for further expansion. 

Contributions from the panelists 

Dr. Laurent Bochereau, the European Union Science Counsellor to the African Union participated in the panel virtually to provide more information on the joint AU-EU Innovation Agenda which is a flagship Initiative of the Global Gateway Africa – Europe investment package. He encouraged the participants to learn more about the agenda from the AU-EU innovation interface 

Dr. Bochereau also expanded on the opportunities under the International Cooperation within the Horizon Europe program that has three pillars. Pillar 1 supports Excellent Science and involves the European Research Council, Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Research Infrastructures. Pillar 2 is centered on addressing Global Challenges and enhancing European Industrial Competitiveness. It backs research clusters spanning Health; Culture, Creativity, and Inclusive Society; Civil Security for Society; Digital, Industry, and Space; Climate, Energy, and Mobility; and Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment. Pillar 3 is dedicated to fostering an Innovative Europe and encompasses the European Innovation Council and the European Institute of Innovation & Technology. 

Dr. Bochereau introduced the second opportunity, known as Africa Initiative 2, featured in the second Work Program of Horizon Europe spanning 2023-2024. It builds upon the successes of the initial Africa Initiative 1 outlined in the Horizon Europe Work Program for 2021-2022. This initiative has a total budget of about 300 million euros and funds about 30 topics under calls for proposals to boost EU-Africa cooperation on Research & Innovation. In concluding, Dr. Bochereau encouraged the ACEs to visit the following useful links: 

  • EU-Africa Cooperation in Research and Innovation – long-term research and innovation policy priorities to strengthen Africa-Europe cooperation 
  • AU-EU Innovation Interface – mapping of AU-EU R&I projects to connect stakeholders and ecosystems at the interface between Africa and Europe to bring value to the impact of the Innovation Agenda 
  • EURAXESS Africainformation about research in Europe, opportunities for research funding, international collaboration and trans-national mobility 
  • Horizon Europe Funding & Tenders’ Portal – funding and calls for proposals for STI projects 
  • EU-Africa Global Gatewaythe Africa-Europe Investment Package, on sustainable investments in infrastructure (digital, energy, transport), health, education and skills, as well as climate change and environment 

Dr. Daniel Dulitzky, Regional Director of Human Development at the World Bank, emphasized the organization’s dedication to eradicating extreme poverty and fostering institutional resilience to shocks. Given the intricate interconnectedness of global issues, innovative solutions, partnerships, and sustained support are essential. Addressing today’s challenges necessitates coordinated, multi-sectoral approaches. Leveraging Africa’s demographic strengths, there’s a crucial emphasis on enhancing the delivery of health and education services. The World Bank is prioritizing support for improved teaching and learning methodologies, infrastructure development, and initiatives in health and education. 

Professor Kiran Bhujun, Director of Tertiary Education & Scientific Research in the Government of Mauritius, highlighted Mauritius’ robust higher education landscape, comprising 41 institutions offering 500 accredited programs. The country boasts an impressive gross tertiary enrollment ratio of 49/50%, reflecting a thriving research and higher education environment. With one-fifth of its students hailing from international backgrounds, Mauritius’ strategies align closely with the AU/EU agenda. The government actively facilitates academic exchanges for African faculty and offers generous scholarships to African students. However, research funding remains relatively low, prompting interest in participating in regional research initiatives and expanding diaspora engagement. Mauritius also aims to achieve a 60% transition to sustainable practices.

Mauritius and Africa as a whole face several challenges, including effectively engaging collaborators, establishing databases of researchers and their interests, limited capacity in navigating fund application processes, developing micro-credit schemes, fostering unity, and collaborating with mainland Africa to address issues like coastal erosion. 

Moderated Q&A session  

The aim of the question-and-answer session was to facilitate an interactive discussion regarding the context, objectives, and future actions of the AU-EU Innovation Agenda. There was a particular emphasis on exploring how the partnerships formed during the week could contribute to advancing the agenda’s goals. 

Professor Jan Palmowski, Secretary General of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, emphasized that ARISE serves as an excellent platform and pathway for research and innovation exchanges within Africa and globally. He highlighted its significant contribution to sustainable and inclusive development, economic growth, and job creation. In the current pilot phase, ARISE supports close to 600 early- to mid-career researchers across Africa, under the guidance of 47 principal investigators, spread across 38 African countries. 

Other questions revolved around strategies for academic and research institutions to enhance innovation and secure increased government funding. 

Dr. Bochereau, the EU representative, highlighted the opportunities presented by the Intra Africa mobility program and reiterated aspects of the Horizon Europe initiative. 

Professor Bhujun emphasized the necessity for creativity to be accompanied by prioritization. He also underscored the correlation between limited funding and the attractiveness of research. Prof. Bhujun urged higher education institutions to focus on problem-solving research and to showcase the tangible impact of their research endeavors. 

Innovations Shaping the Future of Healthcare: Key Insights from the ACE Impact and ACE II Health Centres

Plenary Session V: Panel Discussion on Research and Innovation within the Health Sector  

The healthcare industry in Africa is constantly evolving, driven by innovative research, technological advancements, and a relentless pursuit to improve patient outcomes. At the forefront of this evolution is the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Project, which is being implemented to address high-level skills development needs and innovative requirements for Africa’s priority development sectors, including the health sector.   

As part of the ACE project’s efforts to strengthen partnerships and collaboration among the Centres of Excellence and between them and other key stakeholders in Africa, Europe and beyond, the project organised its maiden Africa Centres of Excellence International Partnership Workshop, at the Intercontinental Mauritius Resort, Balaclava Fort in Mauritius, from May 8-10, 2024. This event brought together over 400 higher education stakeholders. At the workshop, the health centers of the ACE Project convened a panel discussion to exchange insights and explore research findings and innovations developed since their establishment.  

The discussion, moderated by Ms. Muna Meky, the Practice Manager for Eastern & Southern Africa with the Higher Education group Practice of the World Bank, highlighted several remarkable innovations that are reshaping the future of healthcare in Africa. 

Prof. Gordon Awandare, the founding leader of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious and Non-Communicable Diseases (WACBIP) hosted the University of Ghana, highlighted their significant strides in developing vaccines and drugs, including characterizing locally transmitted Dengue infections in Ghana, mapping malaria drug resistance, and identifying new malaria parasite antigens for potential vaccine development. In an environment of emerging diagnostic tools and improved treatment methods, the Centre has developed versatile devices that can be adapted for a wide range of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and a simple test to detect specific mutations associated with hearing impairment. Additionally, the Centre coordinated the largest surveillance study through the West African Network of Infectious Diseases ACEs (WANIDA) in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing critical support for national pandemic responses. 

Another innovation highlighted was the EMOTIVE Intervention developed by the Africa Centre of Excellence in Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP) hosted by Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria. This initiative, according to Prof. Hadiza Galadanci, the founding Director of the Centre, has significantly reduced postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) mortality rates by 60% in five countries: Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Rwanda. The EMOTIVE approach has since been adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a new guideline for addressing PPH-related issues. 

Another area of innovation highlighted was the work of the Centre for Transnational Medicine at the University of Rijeka in Croatia. Prof. Bojan Polic, the Head of the Centre, shared the Centre’s development of cytomegalovirus (CMV) vectors and vaccines, as well as their research on the intersection of the immune and endocrine systems. Notably, the Centre has made recent findings on the role of interferon gamma and hypocytokines in hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia, discovering the importance of conditional gene targeting in controlling cellular stress and identifying the impact of viral infections on the immune response. 

Prof. Adnan Custovic, the leader of the Pediatric Allergy Group at the Centre for Pediatric and Child Health at Imperial College London shared the findings of a study which focused on asthma. He further highlighted how the risk factors and phenotypes of asthma in Africa have fundamentally transformed, with factors like parasitic infections and allergen exposures playing a key role.  

Focusing on traditional medicine, the discussion also highlighted the significant strides made by the Pharma-Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre (PHARMBIOTRAC) hosted by Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. Prof. Ogwang Patrick Engu, the Centre leader, emphasized the Centre’s efforts in addressing critical public health challenges through their research and training initiatives. The Centre has produced a cadre of skilled professionals equipped with scientific knowledge, who have assumed pivotal roles within governmental institutions. Recognizing the importance of quality control and regulation in the traditional medicine domain, some of the Centre’s graduates are now leading efforts to ensure the safety and efficacy of these products across Africa. One notable success story is the development and validation of a locally produced therapeutic, known as COVIDEX, which not only saved countless lives within Uganda but also garnered regional recognition for its efficacy. 

The panel also explored the concept of a Centre of Excellence, emphasizing the importance of vision, direction, and leadership. Dr. Abebaw Fekadu, the Leader of the Centre for Innovative Drug Discovery and Therapeutic Trials for Africa (CDT-Africa), in Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, defined a Centre of excellence as an energetic concept that can drive impact and motivation within teams, providing clear direction and a world-class environment to drive progress in healthcare. 

The Role of Research and Collaboration 

The panelists emphasized the significance of collaboration and partnerships in amplifying the impact of the ACE Centres. Dr. Abebaw Fekadu defined the concept of partnership, drawing from the business sector, where each party benefits from the initiatives. He cited one of their successful collaborations, which involved a principled relationship with partners through the Academic Partnership Maturity Model. This model focuses on engaging in long-term partnerships, ensuring that trust is built and developed, and empowering the partners.  

Prof. Awandare and Prof. Hadiza also shared the benefits of collaborating within the WANIDA Network, which has enabled them to scale up their achievements and secure funding from prestigious organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation and Wellcome Trust. Prof. Bojan Polic Centre’s collaboration with European institutions also allowed them to secure grants from the European Union to transfer students to Europe for training and support them upon their return to become independent and sustainable. 

Challenges and Key Takeaways 

While the panel celebrated the remarkable innovations emerging from the Health Centres of the ACE project, the panelists also acknowledged the challenges that need to be addressed. These include the lack of enabling policies, limited funding, poor research infrastructure and equipment, inadequate access to data, and the pervasive problem of corruption.  

To address these challenges, the panellists provided a wealth of actionable insights for the Centres’  future endeavors. According to Prof. Christian Happi, the Director of the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at Redeemer’s University, in Nigeria, the Centres should put equity and access at the Centre of science. Prof. Happi, along with Prof. Hadiza Galadanci and Prof. Adnan Custovic, emphasized the importance of engaging policymakers and community groups from the initial research stage. This ensures that the Centres’ work aligns with the needs and priorities of decision-makers and the people it is intended to serve, as well as generates political will to provide an enabling environment for research.  

Another key takeaway was the importance of leveraging the existing infrastructure and business startups that have emerged from the Centres’ students. This could help create a thriving research ecosystem where ideas can be translated into products. Prof. Happi also stressed the importance of creating a research ecosystem that could support the entire journey, from ideas to product development. Stressing the importance of togetherness, Prof. Hadiza Galadanci advised the Centres on utilizing grants through transparency, sharing results, and ensuring that their work is visible. This, she believes, will ensure that funders continue to support their efforts and aid in achieving the mission of the Centres of Excellence. 

The panel discussion on key research innovations involving ACE Impact and ACE II Health Centres provided a powerful insight into the transformative work being done. By highlighting the advancements in medical technology, preventive care, and community engagement, the panelists painted a compelling picture of the transformative potential of these innovative solutions. The insights gleaned from this panel discussion serve as a valuable roadmap for African and global healthcare leaders and practitioners to navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of healthcare innovation. 

African University Presidents Discuss the ACE Programme’s Transformative Impact on their Universities and its Sustainability

During the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) International Partnerships Workshop held on Wednesday, May 8th, 2024 (session II), university presidents engaged in a profound dialogue concerning the influence of centers of excellence on their respective institutions. The focus of the discussions were on fostering an environment conducive to innovation, impactful research, and establishing connections with industries. The session took place at the Intercontinental Resort, Balaclava Fort, Mauritius and was moderated by Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and former Secretary-General of the Association of African Universities. 

Commending the ACEs for their remarkable strides and profound influence on both host institutions and nations, Professor Mohamedbhai set the stage for an enlightening exchange. Introducing the distinguished panelists, he posedcritical questions to each, focusing on support for the ACEs, the sustainability of these centers, and the various financial mechanisms and partnerships needed to enhance collaboration between ACEs in Africa and internationally. 

Panel Discussion 

Professor Svein Stølen, the Rector of the University of Oslo and Chair of The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, highlighted the significant impact of the global environment on higher education institutions, including factors like geopolitics and export controls. He emphasized the essential role of international cooperation for forward-thinking universities, suggesting that collaborations could be initiated in one country and expanded to others over time. He cited an example from Norway, where there have been five generations of centers of excellence, which have facilitated predictability, long-term planning, excellence, institutional commitment, prioritization, and  transformation of national and institutional perspectives within universities. 

The University of Oslo places great emphasis on collaborating with research-based innovation centers. Recently, it has forged partnerships with the Africa Research Universities Alliance. To enhance these collaborations, the university adopts innovative approaches in its engagement with Africa, investing time in meticulously designing partnerships. For instance, establishing the partnership with some Nigerian Universities required three years to cultivate trust and align priorities, he said. Professor Stølen underscored the importance of taking decisive actions rather than prolonged discussions, with a focus on bolstering infrastructure and career structures. He concluded by emphasizing the necessity of exploring diverse strategies to achieve sustainability, secure long-term financing, and foster mutually beneficial partnerships. 

 

Professor El Hadji Bamba Diaw, the Director General of the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) in Burkina Faso, shared that 2iE boasts of two ACEs, which have been seamlessly integrated into their host institution in terms of administrative procedures and governance. These Centers have forged strategic partnerships, spearheaded the adoption of best practices at the institutional level, and motivated the extension of ISO certification to all activities of 2iE. They serve as vibrant hubs for research and innovations in engineering and water-related thematic areas. Additionally, language inclusivity is being promoted through a dedicated Center for languages. 

In pursuit of sustainability, both 2iE and the Burkina Faso government view the ACEs as a valuable “brand” that has facilitated increased partnerships, financial support, and the training of over 1000 young Africans.The incubators associated with 2iE Centers are interconnected with the private sector, fostering impactful research through fellowships and scientific output. An innovative irrigation system has been implemented on an agricultural farm. Moreover, the 2iE Centers have played a pivotal role in fortifying collaborations not only within Burkina Faso but also across neighboring countries such as Ghana, Niger, Benin, and Ivory Coast. 

 

Professor Celestino Obua, the Vice Chancellor of the Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Uganda began by reminding the participants that traditional medicines were used in Africa but were not widely studied. There was therefore vast indigenous knowledge related to traditional medicines that was un-documented. PHARMBIOTRAC was established in 2017 as a Center of Excellence at the MUST to address the challenges of low life expectancy and productivity due to communicable and non-communicable diseases, through “building a critical mass of specialized and skilled human resource that can advance traditional medicine and Pharm-Biotechnology for socio-economic development of Africa”. 

The Center has permeated MUST holistically – by impacting research, teaching, curriculum, and accreditation of programs. The Center has acquired state of the art equipment. The MUST Centre for Innovations and Technology Transfer (CITT) collaborates closely with PHARMBIOTRAC. During COVID-19, PHARMBIOTRAC developed COVIDEX, a treatment for COVID-19. MUST has seen an exponential rise in PhD graduates and are now able to recruit scientists outside Uganda because of the good reputation of PHARMBIOTRAC. They have collaborations with Ethiopia, Malawi, and other countries outside Africa. 

Speaking on sustainability of PHARMBIOTRAC, Prof. Obua referenced various initiatives being implemented to ensure this, including joint resource mobilization, and philanthropic activities. He added that the strength of the ACE program has been around promoting accountability in the implementation of activities, and results verifications.  

Prof. Tomislav Josip Mlinaric, the Vice Rector of the University of Zagreb in Croatia participated virtually and said that his university has five Centers of Excellence that were created recently. These are in the fields of Medicine, Molecular Biology, Quantum Algebra, Neuroscience and Data Science. These Centers support national development. 

Since 2002 the University of Zagreb has been collaborating with Africa, adding that  Staff from some Nigerian Universities have already visited Croatia. He stressed that sustainability can be achieved by implementing supportive financing policies and designing strategic measures to address global challenges. 

 

Professor Sanjeev K. Sobhee, Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius, said that even though Mauritius had no funded Center of Excellence, they had several pockets of Research Excellence in the areas of biomedical research, Tourism and Slavery Research. These pockets of research excellence followed the rules for being Centers of Excellence.

He added that the Centers respect the need to address national priorities. One Center, for instance, is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA. The University of Mauritius is implementing its own research schemes to strengthen its collaborations with key stakeholders. Currently, the university is party to several collaborations with various African countries and institutions – including the African Economic Research Consortium, membership to the Southern Africa Regional Universities Alliance, Association of African Universities, Australia Africa Universities Network, and the African Research Universities Alliance. The university is also collaborating with European universities through the Erasmus plus initiative. 

“By joining strategic networks and associations, the University of Mauritius is leveraging African Research Centers of Excellence and being connected to platforms that address resource limitations”, stated Professor Sobhee. He underscored the important role of governments and development partners in contributing to addressing the sustainability challenge and called on higher education to engage such partners more closely.  

 

Moderated Q&A session  

A question was asked on how the Centers of Excellence were addressing the issues of sustainable funding. 

In response, the Director General of 2iE said that when funding for their Centres was delayed due to various reasons, they were able to finance activities for the Centers from the main 2iE institutional budget. This was possible because the ACE is considered to be an important “brand“. Therefore, 2iE leveraged its other sources of finance to support the Centres run effectively.    

The Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and Technology said that the Centers of Excellence had promoted resilience and therefore host universities made it a point to ensure its sustainability.   The VC added that sustainability must go beyond writing grants and focus on the expansion of networks and collaboration to facilitate long-term and deeper success. 

 

Other suggested funding mechanisms, as laid out during the discussions included tapping into the various initiatives existing on the continent and elsewhere, such as the Erasmus plus initiative, as well as also creating and promoting spin-offs from expansions. Closer engagement of governments was also highlighted. 2iE additionally indicated that they are using their high-level equipment to support the sustainability plans of their Centers of Excellence.  

Covenant University‘s strategy include investing an annual amount for sustaining their Center and ensuring that these funds are part of the institutional budget.  

 

The Rector of the University of Oslo highlighted the need for institutions to commit to long-term sustainable funding. On its part, it employs a number of strategies, including encouraging its professors to be oriented towards competing for grants. 

The University of Mauritius research center was said to be linked to financial independence. Its researchers have been very active, and the center was self-funded for 5 years because of its niche programs that are high quality and very much in demand. 

A question was asked concerning post-doctoral level manpower and where trained students went to. 

Mbarara University of Science and Technology shared that three of its students had returned to their home countries and become heads of departments or Deans of faculties. Others had set up small industries. Additionally, there were research projects that supported post-doctoral training at Mbarara University of Science and Technology. 

The Director General of 2iE said that they had an effective system to follow up on their students and they knew where they went after graduation. 

Closing Remarks by Moderator 

Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai summarised the discussion by stating that institutional commitments were critical to the success of the Centers of Excellence. Sustainability was a complex issue that had to involve the institutions and the governments. Collaborations between the AU and EU have been taking place for years and that there are several opportunities for collaborations within the wider ecosystem that Centers could tap into. It was said that an independent evaluation of the Centers of Excellence would be very useful. He added that stakeholders should not be worried about doctorates leaving Africa because they cannot be forced to stay, but rather favourable working environments can be created to attract them to stay.  

Clearly, University policies, funding, and administrative systems have be adopted to support the Centers of Excellence. The integration of the Centers as a core part of their host institutions is contributing to the sustainability of the Centers. 

The types of financial instruments to strengthen the cooperation between Centers and other centers in Africa and abroad include national government financing, alternative resource mobilization and funds generated from spin-offs.  

The partnership options that would strengthen the cooperation between Centers of Excellence and other centers in Africa and abroad – include Erasmus Plus, membership to research universities alliances and membership to subject specific thematic groups.  

 

Short Biographical Information

Moderator: Prof. Goolam Mohamedbhai is an independent consultant in higher education, with a special interest in Africa. He has served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and held leadership positions in several international organizations, including the Association of African Universities and the International Association of Universities. He chairs the Regional Steering Committee of the African Centers of Excellence for Eastern and Southern Africa.  

 

Prof. Svein Stølen is the Rector of University of Oslo and Chair of The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities. He was also elected the first president of the European University Alliance Circle U, a European University Alliance.  He is a professor of chemistry, with research interest in inorganic materials, especially relationships between structure and properties. 

 

Prof. El Hadji Bamba Diaw currently serves as the Director General of the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) in Burkina Faso, where he is also a distinguished full professor specializing in water sciences and techniques. With a diverse academic background including a master’s degree in applied physical sciences and a PhD in Fluid Mechanics, he has held various significant roles such as Director of the Polytechnic School of Thiès and Head of the research division of the University of Thiès, Senegal 

 

Prof. Celestino Obua, Celestino Obua is a medical doctor and Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, currently serving as Vice Chancellor at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and chairing the Board of Directors at Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB). Prof. Obua focuses on capacity building in areas such as non-communicable diseases and HIV/AIDS prevention. 

 

Prof. Tomislav Josip Mlinaric is the Vice Rector of the University of Zagreb in Croatia. He is a full professor in the Department of Transport and Traffic Sciences. He currently holds several management positions including president of the Committee for Innovation and Technology Transfer of the University of Zagreb and Head of the Land Transport Section of the Scientific Council for Transport in the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.  

 

Professor Sanjeev K Sobhee is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and has been spearheading major academic reforms at the University including the streamlining of several administrative processes and procedures. Professor Sobhee has wide experience in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels across different fields of Economics. His teaching focus has been Advanced Macroeconomics, Public Policy, Economics of the Environment and Sustainable Development and Quantitative Methods mostly on postgraduate programmes.

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