The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence: A Pathway towards Sustainable Development – High-Level Meetings with Partners

In collaboration with the French Development Agency, AFD (co-financier of ACE-Impact), the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, IRD (facilitating ACEs’ regional networks), and the Association of African Universities, AAU (ACE-Impact Regional Facilitation Unit), the World Bank is organizing a two-day high-level event under the theme: “The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence: A Pathway towards Sustainable Development”The event took place at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, on October 17 and 18, 2022, and brought together the ACEs and the most influential decision makers in the development space to discuss the centers’ innovations and best practices at both national and regional levels, as well as their challenges and opportunities. Following the high-level event, the ACEs travelled on October 20 and 21, 2022 to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University for peer-learning and partnership opportunities.

The event was co-funded by the World Bank, the AFD and the World Bank China Partnership Facility (CWPF).

Read More about this event

Women urged to invest in their careers, make sacrifices today to reap great benefits tomorrow

Women urged to invest in their careers, make sacrifices today to reap great benefits tomorrow

Women in Africa’s higher education sector, especially those in the Africa Centers of Excellence for Development Impact, have been encouraged to make the necessary investments and sacrifices to acquire the requisite technical skills and knowledge to advance their careers and to enjoy the benefits that come from such an investment in later years.

Several initiatives have been implemented by the ACE Impact project to promote gender inclusiveness and specifically to ensure that women are empowered through the project. Aside from having a core indicator that promotes the recruitment of female students to the centres, the project has instituted a well-coordinated gender initiative which regularly rolls out capacity-building trainings among others and engages the centres on the issue of women empowerment.

Addressing participants at the 8th ACE Impact regional workshop in The Gambia in a plenary session on career perspectives for women, Prof. Hadiza Galadanci, the Center Leader for the Africa Centre of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP), Nigeria, called on women to view education as an ongoing activity, and to be deliberate about investing their time, resources, and all it takes to gain credibility and recognition as hardworking professionals.

She stressed that the sacrifices made in the early years of one’s career – including investing efforts in gaining visibility, participating in important workshops, seminars, and conferences, building a rich network, and looking out for opportunities to forge partnerships and collaborations, as well as engaging in publishing were among the key factors shaping careers and propelling academics to the top, thus it was necessary, for females to invest in such engagements.

Using herself as a shining example, Prof. Galadanci recounted how her hard work and track record over the years, coupled with the sacrifices she made during the early years of her career, and key attributes such as teamwork, effective time management and being a life-long learner had paid off in the later years of her career. Currently, she provides consultancy services and leads ground-breaking research, as well as serve on various boards and panels, among several other high-profile engagements by both local and international organisations. She attributes all these to the efforts she made earlier towards building a rich career profile.

Prof. Hadiza Galadaci emphasised, that there’s no glass ceiling limiting women, and that women can equally compete with their male colleagues for positions and be selected, if they prove themselves to be hardworking, knowledgeable, and skilled in their areas of expertise. She called on women to work twice as hard as their male colleagues, ensuring a good career-family life balance, in the process.

The plenary session on career perspectives for women, was hosted on Wednesday November 16, 2022, and was chaired by Dr Mariame Sadio Diallo, the Deputy Center Leader for the Africa Center of Excellence for Prevention and Control of Transmissible Diseases (ACE PCMT), Guinea.

Aside from the keynote speaker, the session featured three panelists, Dr. Mane Seck, MITIC, Senegal, Dr. Grace Sename Peter, ACEGID Nigeria and Dr. Jainaba Sey Sawo (Emerging Center of Excellence on Science, Engineering & Technology for Entrepreneurship)), who are all alumni of the African Centres of Excellence. The objective of the session was to provide an interactive discussion session to help participants reflect on the positive experiences of ACE centers’ female alumni not only for their own sake but also to highlight their contributions to their countries’ economies.

 

Technical competencies must be accompanied by non-technical competencies for one to excel

The three panelists at this session highlighted the importance of both technical and soft skills in their career trajectories. Dr. Mane Seck, an awardee and winner of the best oral presentation at the 2nd African Conference on Renewable Energy, a conference which was convened in Senegal in 2022 narrated how soft skills such as time management, teamwork and communication had been critical and contributed to the feat that she achieved. The key task for winning the award was for contestants to present a summary of their entire research/thesis in three minutes, and thus for her, content is key, but equally important are the soft skills such as being a great communicator. Dr. Seck also highlighted the important skill of being able to engage partners and availing oneself for participation in international meetings, to gain international exposure.

For Dr. Jainaba Sawo, intimated that having the ability to balance career and family, as well as being committed, determined and hardworking were all important. Her strong technical and soft skills have seen her moving through the ranks to occupy key leadership positions including serving as the head of department for the Department of Nursing and Reproductive Health in her institution (University of The Gambia).

Dr. Grace Senam highlighted the need for women to continue to seek knowledge, collaborate with other professionals and persevere in seeking to excel. Her advice to the next generation of African women in STEM and indeed other fields, was for them to be focused on making an impact in their fields, being problem solvers, having curious minds and to attach themselves to great mentors who would be good support systems to them as they wade through challenges and climb up the academic ladder. Another advice that featured prominently in her submission was for women to desist from competing with others, but rather with themselves, and seek to be better versions of themselves. She called on women not to allow other factors, especially social factors to stymie their career goals, urging them to go after their dreams.

 

Overcoming the challenges encountered by women

The panelists further deliberated on the challenges faced by women in their pursuit of their career goals, and how to overcome them, suppressing their potential of dimming women’s prospects for career advancement.

Among these, were the lack of confidence, poor IT skills, poor bio-statistics skills, and the social pressure exerted on young women to focus on their gender roles and start a family, just to mention a few.

The panelists encouraged women in academia not to be afraid of taking up new challenges and responsibilities, and to be confident that they could excel. They were also encouraged to seek the requisite knowledge and to ensure that they acquire the needed skills, leveraging on available opportunities to participate in projects and acquire skills in the process, as well as to take advantage of the wider opportunities presented by a boom in online learning. Making it easy to conveniently acquire skills anytime. Young girls were especially encouraged not to succumb to the social pressures that they faced, and to be deliberate about getting the right life partner who would understand and support their career goals, if they so wish to start a family life. The key role mentors must play in helping women and girls overcome all these challenges was again highlighted.

General recent progress recorded by various countries, in banning early marriages and putting in place measures to control gender-based violence, as well as having women role models in key positions to look up to, were all highlighted as good conditions which should give young women some hope for a brighter future.

 

Call on Centres to show leadership in promoting women empowerment

Dr. Ekua Bentil, Senior Education Specialist and ACE Task Team Leader at the World Bank intimated that it takes a lot of effort and commitment from all parties, including men, to ensure that women succeed, and called on the centres of excellence to work hard to make a difference at the centre levels.

She said that the ACE Impact, as a project of excellence has put in place strategic measures to empower women and that the ACE story, in terms of how it supports women at the centres – both centre team members and students – to overcome various barriers, must be completely different from what exists in the general society and must strive to continue to impact society as well.

 

Way Forward – ACE Impact Project’s intervention to inspire women to be leaders

Ms. Djénéba Gory, a consultant and ACE Impact core team member at the World Bank, reported that so far, the ACE impact has hosted several events focused on women and these include a webinar held in March 2022 (Women’s Month) themed Inspiring Women as Leaders of African Higher Education; a Gender Policies in Action Talk at the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop in June 2022; a virtual Negotiation Workshop (October-November 2022) and the Careers Perspective for Women Talk at the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop (November, 2022).

As part of the next steps, the project aims to organise a webinar on Sexual Harassment (January/February 2022), a Leadership Workshop (March/April 2023) and a Careers in STEM Series (May/June) among others.

Ms. Gory called on Centres to support the various ongoing initiatives, by taking ownership and being agile in terms of leveraging the initiatives to suit their institutional needs.

President of the Republic of The Gambia joins stakeholders to celebrate project successes at the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop

President of the Republic of The Gambia joins stakeholders to celebrate project successes at the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop

The Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Center in the Gambia livened up on the 15th of November 2022 as the Gambia Police Band skillfully played the Gambian National Anthem to kickstart the 8th Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) Regional Workshop.

The opening ceremony was attended by prominent dignitaries including His Excellency, The Gambia President, Adama Barrow (who formally opened the regional workshop), Hon. Professor Pierre Gomez, the Gambia Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology; Hon. Professor Balde Moussa, Minister of Higher Education & Research of the Republic of Senegal; Hon. Karm Mamoudon, Minister of Higher Education and Research, Niger; Hon. Adama Diawara Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Cote d’Ivoire; Hon. Badara Alieu Joof, Vice President of The Gambia; the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities Professor Olusola Bandele Oyewole; Mrs. Feyi Boroffice, the World Bank Resident Representative for The Gambia; Dr. Laurent Cortese, Deputy Director, French Development Agency (AFD) and several other high-ranking officials from the Republic of The Gambia.

Dr. Yusupha Touray, the Permanent Secretary of The Gambia’s Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology chaired the proceedings of the opening ceremony and welcomed the over 450 delegates to The Gambia – which is also nicknamed the ‘smiling coast’ because the country cuts through the middle of Senegal, with its position appearing like that of a smile on the map of the continent. The other distinguished delegates at this meeting included the Project’s Steering Committee Members, Focal Point Officers, Vice Chancellors, Center Leaders, Deputy Center Leaders, Procurement Officers, MEL Officers, Finance Officers, Environmental and Safeguard Officers, Subject Matter Experts, World Bank Officials, Students, AAU Officials, AFD Officials, and other invited guests.

In his welcome remarks, Honourable Professor Pierre Gomez, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology for The Gambia, encouraged participants to take advantage of the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop and “establish the right partnerships and networks to help develop Africa’s Higher Education Institutions to be able to compete in the research and innovation global markets”. He acknowledged that The Gambia had benefited tremendously from being part of the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project – particularly in the areas of human capital development and institutional strengthening. He also said that he was inspired by the diversity of experts from academia and industry who are collaborating under the project to address developmental challenges through education and research.

Workshop’s Focus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Message by the AAU

Professor Olusola Bandele Oyewole, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities (AAU), reminded the gathering that the theme for the 8th regional workshop – Innovation and Entrepreneurship – was aptly chosen because of the need to reorient Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation, and creativity required to promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and continental levels. He reminded the participants that “modern and prosperous economies were spurred by innovation, entrepreneurship and technology” and that “innovation and entrepreneurship remain pressing priorities to maximize the potential of Africa’s most precious resource, its human capital”.

Professor Oyewole extended special gratitude to His Excellency Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of The Gambia, Hon. Professor Pierre Gomez, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, and the Government of the Republic of The Gambia for hosting the 8th Regional Workshop and Project Steering Committee meeting. He also acknowledged the Republic of The Gambia for its support towards the development of African higher education through the ACE Impact project.

Commitment by the World Bank to Continue Prioritising Human Capital Development

Mrs. Feyi Boroffice, the World Bank Resident Representative for The Gambia pledged that the World Bank stood ready to support African governments and would continue to prioritize human capital development in Africa. She applauded the ACE Impact Centers for contributing towards improving maternal and child health in rural communities; leading genomic sequencing and diagnostics of infectious diseases such as Ebola and covid-19; developing high-yield, and climate and disease resistant crops; promoting valorization of waste and identifying innovative techniques to ensure the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities in Africa.

Again, Mrs. Boroffice thanked the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement – AFD), for co-financing the flagship ACE-Impact Project and paid a glowing tribute to the Association of African Universities’ team, led by Professor Olusola Oyewole and Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire (the ACE Impact Senior Project Manager) for working tirelessly in planning and co-hosting the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop. She stated that the ACE Impact Project was “a great model for leveraging regional approaches promoting a quality, innovative, sustainable, and collaborative higher education sector in Africa, and for complementing national efforts”.

 

Key initiatives being implemented to Transform The Gambia’s Higher Education Sector

His Excellency Adama Barrow, the President of The Gambia, highlighted the various concerted efforts that The Gambia was investing in transforming its higher education system through reforms to put the youth at the forefront of national development. He also shared that The Gambia was working towards establishing a fully-fledged Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology, and Engineering for Entrepreneurship. “The recently established University of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology (USET) is going to be important for developing adequate human capital that is equipped with entrepreneurial mindsets to match Gambia’s development strides and aspirations” said President Barrow.

The President also intimated that his government, through the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, was setting up regional skills centres and the relevant curriculum for technical education and training. He added, that besides strengthening the existing tertiary institutions, his government was committed to expanding opportunities in the Applied Sciences at the new University of Applied Sciences, Engineering, and Technology.

As a proud member state of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the President expressed the country’s delight in hosting, partnering, and participating in the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop. He agreed that it was important to build the capacities of African Universities to enable them bridge the critical human resource capacity gaps and contribute towards addressing the continent’s development challenges. The President emphasized that the “academics, researchers, and policymakers, could pave the way for a better Africa if higher education was regarded as an investment”.

He concluded by thanking the World Bank, the Association of African Universities, the French Development Agency, and the Project Steering Committee of the ACE Impact Project for supporting The Gambia in creating a “new national development path within its education sector”.

 

The ACE Impact Project Steering Committee Meeting

The opening ceremony of the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop was preceded by a Project Steering Committee Meeting on the 14th of November 2022 where the African Ministers of Higher Education or their representatives were in attendance to receive reports on the status of the project. In her ACE Impact Progress and Update report to the PSC Meeting, Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire discussed key results of the project in line with the project development objectives. Among the key achievements, it was highlighted that US$6.196.916 external revenue had been mobilized by the ACE Impact Centers; 5,341 regional students had been admitted by the Centers; 5,460 females make up 51% of the total number of students enrolled and 152 academic programmes had been nationally accredited. In the area of partnerships, it was reported that the ACE Impact Project was in a partnership with IBM and are supporting Student Internships at IBM’s research laboratories in Kenya and South Africa, as well as providing advanced digital training for faculty. The project was also said to engage Elsevier in building the Centers’ capacities in research, publications, and scientific communication. Another ongoing partnership with AFD is helping to support four (4) thematic networks of ACE Centers, with 6 million Euros being invested in the networks. The PASET (partnership for skills in applied science, engineering, and technology) collaboration, which was also highlighted, involves 200 students who are hosted in ACE Impact accredited programs.

Call to Action to Promote Sustainability of the ACE Impact Project

Dr. Mkandawire concluded her report with a call to action for African governments to urgently support the project in the areas of procurement, investments in state-of-the-art infrastructure and sustaining the investments already made. She also reported on the high-level meeting hosted for the ACE Impact Centers and key partners at the World Bank Offices in Washington DC in October 2022. She indicated that the meeting was successful in disseminating the impact of the ACEs and their contributions towards addressing key regional development challenges and global crises in public health, climate change, energy, agriculture, and food.

Prioritize Attracting Private Sector Investments to Boost Research & Development Outputs – African Scientists and Innovators have been told

Prioritize Attracting Private Sector Investments to Boost Research and Development Outputs – African Scientists and Innovators have been told

African researchers, scientists and innovators have been counselled to channel their focus on mobilising private sector investment and financing rather than depending solely on the already scare public resources, to improve the continent’s expenditure on Research and Development and increase its R&D output.

Generally, low spending on scientific research and development is pervasive in Africa, with countries’ expenditure on R&D being pegged at less than 1% of their Gross Domestic Products, whereas the global average stands at 1.7%. Africa continues to lag in its research outputs, and this is partly attributable to its inability to invest in Research and Development. To change the narrative, African leaders in 2006 committed to allocating at least one percent of their respective countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into Research and Development by 2010. Sadly, a decade has gone by, yet the continent has still not realized this goal.

Speaking at the 8th Regional workshop of the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) held in The Gambia, Dr. Yaw Bediako, CEO of Yemaachi Biotech in Ghana and a faculty member at the West Africa Centre for Cell Biology and Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), said that it was time for a change to be affected in the historical pattern of having most of Africa’s Research and Development (R&D) investments coming from the public sector. This according to him was in sharp contrast with what pertains in more developed countries, where investments for R&D were largely from the private sector.

Catalysing private finance as a key strategy to increasing the overall investment in R&D is therefore a sure solution to addressing the funding challenge faced by researchers and innovators. Highlighting the example of the United States of America (USA), Dr. Bediako told participants at the workshop that “The USA invests 2-3% of its GDP in Research and Development, however, 72% of the money comes from the private sector. In essence, the U.S government’s contribution to R&D is less than 1% of their GDP”.

African leaders, higher education stakeholders and innovators were urged to take a critical look at the countries that have succeeded in investing more than 1% of their GDP in Research and Development and analyze the strategies adopted by those countries to serve as a guide.

Dr. Bediako emphatically stated that while the solution to the continent’s R&D investments would come from the private sector, African Governments need to create a conducive environment that allows businesses to succeed, for instance, introducing tax incentives where its currently non-existent, to enable the private sector access initial start-up funding or to scale-up their existing businesses.

Highlighting the relevance of Research and Development to the growth of a Nation, Dr. Danica Ramljak, Senior Consultant, at the World Bank indicated that “There is no good economic development or sustainable development without innovation, entrepreneurship, research, and development

She also urged all ACE Impact Centers of Excellence to coordinate with their respective universities’ leadership so they play their roles as part of the ecosystem by providing leadership, vision, policies, and research infrastructure, entrepreneurial curriculum to boost R&D outputs. She stressed that centers must never work in silos and encouraged them to learn from each other and leverage International and Industrial partnerships in order to succeed.

Strengthening Engagement with the Private Sector is Important

Dr. Jimmy Nsenga, a lead software engineer, and a scientist, who was a panelist at the session, underscored the need for the Centres of Excellence to be deliberate about their engagements with the private sector.  He said that to attract private sector investments, centers must make a conscious effort to be visible to the private sector as business partners and to change the misguided view of Higher Education Institutions being seen as only existing for their core roles of teaching and learning.

He called on the Centres of Excellence to deepen their engagements with the private sector, because private sector institutions were unaware of the existence of the ACEs. Dr. Nsenga also urged the ACEs to leverage their expertise for the benefit of the private sector, by for instance, providing a clear roadmap for the business sector based on research. According to him, most entrepreneurs in Africa lack roadmaps for their businesses and therefore supporting them in this area could improve their success rates, thus their motivation to equally invest in research.

Consideration of Entrepreneurship as a Pathway to Attracting Funding for R& D

It was highlighted, that despite Africa’s low investment in Research and Development, companies and start-ups on the continent have started attracting private investments although the numbers are still very low compared to the global figures. One of such start-ups on the continent is Yemaachi Biotech, an oncology drug target discovery company founded in 2021 by Dr. Yaw Bediako and his team.

Dr. Bediako, a scientist, innovator, and entrepreneur, took the opportunity to urge the Center Leaders and Scientists to consider venturing into entrepreneurship, as a route to attracting funding for research to solve the continent’s and more generally, global challenges.

He indicated that entrepreneurship presented an important pathway to sustainability and that while the ACEs were still exploring avenues to become sustainable beyond the World Bank’s funding, part of the solution would be for them to establish local industries.

The African higher education sector was called upon to do all it can (including attracting funding from the private sector) to ensure it retains its great scientists and innovators and not continue to lose them through brain drain, due to lack of funding to support their exploits.

The 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop was held from the 14th – the 18th of November 2022 in the Republic of The Gambia. Present at the workshop were His Excellency Adama Barrow, the President of the Republic of The Gambia, Hon. Alieu Joof, Vice President of The Gambia, Ministers of Higher Education from the region and other Government Representatives from Africa, Higher Education, and other project stakeholders and Students.

African Ministers of Higher Education & Key Stakeholders Meet in Banjul for the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop

PRESS RELEASE

 

African Ministers of Higher Education and Key Stakeholders Meet in Banjul for the 8th Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) Regional Workshop

Accra, Ghana (November 8, 2022) – Stakeholders of the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project will be convening in Banjul, The Gambia, for the 8th bi-annual meeting to be held from 14th-17th November 2022. The meeting will bring together Ministers of Higher Education and project government representatives from the 11 participating African countries, the leaders of the fifty-three (53) Centers of Excellence, subject matter experts, key higher education stakeholders, policy think tanks, and partners such as the World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Association of African Universities (AAU).

The workshop fosters an environment of knowledge sharing and networking between the centers and relevant agencies, providing in-person collaborative opportunities for the exchange of regional knowledge. The necessary tools and guidelines to facilitate effective project implementation and sustainability are shared with all centers, strengthening partnerships and networks whilst ensuring quality standards are maintained. The meeting seeks to provide implementation support and share global best practices with centers on the project objectives, especially development impact, entrepreneurship and innovation, gender initiatives, digital transformation, and institutional impact activities.

In line with students’ participation in this high-level meeting, winners of the maiden edition of the Student Innovation Research Award (SIRA) will be recognized. At least the best 15 ACE Impact students competitively selected for the SIRA will be awarded during the closing ceremony for outstanding competitive projects that offer solutions and innovative ideas in transformative research and interdisciplinary collaborations. Furthermore, students from the University of Applied Science, Engineering, and Technology (USET) in The Gambia will be given the opportunity to share their innovative research outputs through a poster exhibition to be held on November 15, 2022.

All activities, including the Opening and Closing ceremonies will be held (or hosted) at the OIC Conference Centre in Banjul, The Gambia. Virtual participation is available for stakeholders that may want to join online. The opening and closing sessions of the workshop will be held on the 15th and 18th of November, respectively, at 8:00 GMT. The special guest-of-honor for the opening session is His Excellency Adama Barrow, the President of the Republic of The Gambia.

The workshop will be preceded by a closed-door Ministerial/Steering Committee meeting on 14th November 2022. The Ministers of Higher Education and project government representatives from the 11 participating countries together with key partners will take stock of the progress made thus far and make recommendations towards the sustainability of the project.

The ACE Impact project remains committed to training the next generation of experts in priority areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); Agriculture, Environment, Applied Social Science, Education, and Health with the aim of promoting sustainable growth and development in Africa.

 

Please visit the event website for details of the meeting Agenda among other relevant information.

– END –

 

For further information, contact

The World Bank: Hadijja Jawara, hjawara1@worldbank.org

The AAU: Millicent Kyei, makyei@aau.org

The Gambia: Maya Faal, mayafaal10@gmail.com

 

Background Information

The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) is a World Bank initiative in collaboration with governments of participating countries to support higher education institutions specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Agriculture, Health, Environment and Social Science/Applied Science and Education. It is the first World Bank project aimed at building the capacities of higher education institutions in Africa through the promotion of regional specialization among participating universities in areas that address specific common regional development challenges. It further aims to strengthen the capacities of these universities to deliver high-quality training and applied research, as well as meet the demand for skills required for Africa’s development. The first phase (ACE I) was launched in 2014 with 22 Centers of Excellence in Nine (9) West and Central African countries; Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. The second phase (ACE II) was launched in East and Southern Africa with 24 centers across Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Based on the initial successes, the World Bank, and the French Development Agency (AFD) in collaboration with the African governments, launched the ACE Impact Project in 2019 to further strengthen post-graduate training and applied research in existing fields and support new fields that are essential for Africa’s economic growth. Under ACE Impact, there are 53 ACEs specializing in the broad thematic areas of STEM, agriculture, health, environment and social/applied science and education. For more information on the ACE Impact Project, visit https://ace.aau.org

 

About the Organizers

Association of African Universities (AAU): The Association of African Universities is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization created by African Universities to promote cooperation among them on the one hand, and between them and the international academic community on the other. Created in 1967, the AAU is the Voice of Higher Education in Africa. AAU aims to improve the quality of African Higher Education and to strengthen its contribution to Africa’s development by supporting the core functions of Higher Education Institutions and facilitating critical reflection and consensus building on issues affecting Higher Education in Africa. The AAU is the Regional Facilitation Unit of the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact project.

World Bank Group: The World Bank Group is a multilateral development institution that works to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity. Its subsidiary IDA (International Development Association) finances the Africa Centers of Excellence series of projects. The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 74 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.3 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has provided $458 billion to 114 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $29 billion over the last three years (FY19-FY21), with about 70 percent going to Africa.

French Development Agency (AFD): For more than 75 years, the French Development Agency (AFD) has been fighting global poverty by supporting policies and investments that benefit the poorest populations. Strengthening the social link between individuals, groups, and territories are now at the heart of its actions in education, health, employment, urban planning, climate, and biodiversity. The French Development Agency (AFD) is the ACE Impact project co-financier.

The 7th ACE Impact Workshop Ends After Four Days of Intense Discussions in Cotonou

The 7th ACE Impact Workshop Ends After Four Days of Intense Discussions in Cotonou, Benin – The Gambia is set to host the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop in November 2022

The highly successful and productive 7th ACE Impact regional workshop hosted from 14 June 2022 ended on Friday 17 June 2022 with several key outcomes and a way forward forged from the event’s discussion.

As key highlights, the workshop was attended by close to 300 participants comprising government representatives from the 11 participating countries of the project, eminent academics, researchers, development partners from the World Bank, IRD and AFD, team members from the Association of African Universities (AAU), project teams from the African Higher Education Centres of Excellence, students and industry partners, just to mention a few. Aside Africa, participants and experts from the United States of America, Europe, New Zealand, and other countries/continents physically participated in the workshop in Benin.  Several other higher education stakeholders also joined the event virtually. Both the closing and opening ceremonies were graced by the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Republic of Benin – Professor Mrs. Eléonore Yayi Ladekan. The workshop, which gathered the crème de la crème of professionals in Africa’s higher education, recorded several technical sessions, including performance clinics, thematic breakout sessions, parallel and plenary sessions.

The four-day workshop also updated participants and featured discussions on overall project updates, monitoring, evaluation and learning, report from the subject matter experts,  a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, the development impact of the centres’ interventions, as well as a report on the progress of the Centres of Competence in Digital Education (C-CoDE) Initiative. Others included a focus on gender , updates on the Data Systems Maturity Survey and updates on regional networks.

The closing remarks, given by the Secretary General of the AAU, Prof. Olusola Oyewole; The Benin Country Manager of the World Bank, who was represented by Dr. Ekua Bentil (the World Bank Senior Education Specialist and Team Leader of ACE Impact) and the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for Benin, were packed with key messages appreciating all the teams for their outstanding contributions to a successful workshop. Their remarks urged the project’s stakeholders to continue collaboratively working towards the shared goal of achieving development impact to accelerate Africa’s growth.

Specifically, the remarks from the World Bank team paid glowing tribute to the Government of Benin, represented by the Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research for hosting both the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop and the Project Steering Committee Meeting.  The local organizing committee, Ministers of higher education from across the continent, Vice Chancellors, subject matter experts, partners including the AAU and AFD; Centre leaders and their teams, as well as students from the respective centers, especially those who participated in the workshop’s poster competition were all duly acknowledged. Mrs. Gabrielle Hansen, an officer in charge of logistics at the AAU was specially recognised for her hard work and unwavering dedication to the project, as well as the success of the 7th ACE Impact workshop, despite finding herself in challenging circumstances.  The centres were reminded that it was only through their resilience and dedication that the project could achieve its targets. The messages also made a strong call to the centres of excellence to continue innovating, since ‘innovation and impact is what distinguishes them as ACE Centers,’ they were told.  Another key point highlighted was the fact that as a regional project, the success of one center was the success of all, and therefore collaboration to ensure that the centres succeed was key. Dr. Ekua Bentil, speaking on behalf of the World Bank Country Manager for Benin, said, that the ACE Impact initiative was not merely a project, but a long-term vision to equip Africa to generate the next cohort of experts, researchers and academics who will contribute to solving Africa’s developmental challenges. She also announced that The Gambia had offered to host the 8th ACE Impact Regional Workshop in November 2022, a gesture for which the project was grateful. This announcement was received with loud applause from the hundreds of participants gathered at Palais des Congrès, the venue for the closing ceremony in Cotonou, Benin.

For his part, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities, Prof. Olusola Oyewole acknowledged the respective teams for their contributions and active participation throughout the workshop discussions. He highlighted the key areas where centres are remarkably delivering on target (including revenue generation and overall student enrolment) and called for efforts to be stepped up in areas such as accreditation and female student enrolment to foster a complete attainment of the project’s targets. He encouraged the centres to critically identify the challenges that confront them and to invest time and resources towards addressing such challenges. The Centres were also urged to consolidate the gains made so far, by devising innovative mechanisms, strengthening partnerships among themselves and with industry and other sectors, while ensuring sustainability of the project. Prof. Oyewole used the platform to call for the adoption of the brilliant ACE Impact model by other African governments and development partners. He wrapped up by expressing his optimism, about the centres being more that galvanised to meet the project’s targets and to significantly enhance the quality of their research and overall contributions, following all the lively and stimulating discussions over the workshops’ duration.

The guest of honour for the official closing ceremony, the honourable Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research for Benin, Prof. Mrs. Eléonore Yayi Ladekan was full of praise for the AAU’s facilitative role towards the successful organisation of the workshop, and overall dynamism and contribution to the centres of excellence project. She called on centres to continue prioritising the key tenets underlying the project including the focus on training quality students, achieving institutional impact, generating innovative solutions, prioritising research excellence, and enrolling female students. While thanking all the stakeholders and development partners for facilitating the project and for choosing Benin as the host country for the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, she congratulated The Gambia for being the next country to host the gathering of some of Africa’s top intellectuals at the upcoming 8th ACE Impact regional workshop. The minister also invited the participants to explore the beautiful city of Cotonou and to visit some tourism destinations in Benin.

Prof. Joel Tossa, the Centre Leader for CEA-SMIA gave the vote of thanks, on behalf of the Local Organising Committee.

Highlights of the Next Steps of the Project

Giving the Immediate next steps related to activities to be prioritised following the workshop, Dr. Ekua Bentil, the Team Lead for ACE Impact at the World Bank listed the following:

  • Submission of project extension request letters by the Project Steering Committee Members to their respective governments by end of June 2022
  • Completion of First ACE Impact re-allocation of Funds and Mid Term Review by end of June 2022
  • Completion of verification of January -May 2022 results and issuance of disbursement letters to centres (June-August 2022)
  • Completion of mid-term review assessment of Second ACE Impact countries (June -September 2022)
  • Subject matter expert site visits and virtual support to the Centres (June – December 2022)
  • Capacity building activities for Centres e.g., Webinars, coaching
    (June 2022 – May 2023)
  • Overseeing the Graduate Tracer Study Implementation (June 2022 – May 2023)
  • Supporting the implementation of ACE Impact thematic networks and partnerships (June 2022 – May 2023)
  • Hosting of the 8th Regional Workshop in The Gambia (November 2022)

Concluding her delivery, Dr. Bentil stressed the need for the centres and their respective governments to work towards ensuring the sustainability of the project, well beyond its stipulated end date and funding period.

Students Poster Exhibition and Awards

The closing ceremony also featured the presentation of Awards to students who had emerged as winners of the poster exhibition, a contest hosted as part of the 7th ACE Impact workshop.  This contest afforded the students, the opportunity to share their innovative research with the event participants. Those who won the first, second and third places were presented their awards by the Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research, honourable Prof. Mrs. Eléonore Yayi Ladekan, supported by Prof. Olusola Oyewole, the Secretary General of the AAU, and Dr. Ekua Bentil of the World Bank.

The winners for the poster competition are as follows:

1st Place Position – Benjamin Bonkoungou and Prof. Amos T. Kabo-bah

2nd Place Position – Alle, I. C.; Descloitres, M.; Vouillamoz, J-M. ; Yalo, N.; Lawson, M.; Adihou, C.

3rd Place Position – Essohanam Djeki, Jules Degila, Carlyna Bondiombouy, and Muhtar Hanif Alhassan

 

Written by: Mrs. Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi

“Place Students and Faculty at the Center of Digital Infrastructure Implementation” – a Senior Digital Education Expert Advises

Mr. Moussa Traore an International Digital Education Expert from the World Bank advised African Universities to always prioritize the needs of students and faculty when designing and implementing digital infrastructure. This is important because technological infrastructure must be used by students and faculty to achieve the intended learning outcomes and produce skilled graduates that would be able to address Africa’s developmental challenges. African Universities tend to prioritize internet access for their administrative purposes and not for teaching, learning and research needs, stated Mr. Traore. He said this while making a presentation during the digital transformation session at the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop hosted in Benin from 14-17 June 2022.

The overall “ICT for digital and remote learning” recommendations shared by Mr. Traore focused on infrastructure and equipment; technical support and training; quality digital content and resources and digital education policies and data governance.

Infrastructure and equipment

Mr. Traore advised universities to gradually migrate their applications, platforms, and related infrastructure to the cloud because this would reduce the need to invest in internal skills for maintaining the infrastructure. Cloud hosting also ensures that the digital platforms are continuously accessible and not affected by power outages.

Universities were encouraged to develop long-term plans for their infrastructure, which must include the replacement of wired and wireless cabling, devices and identifying funding sources. It was also said that university digital transformation plans must indicate how the security and protection of student data are assured.

Mr. Traore cautioned that universities needed to ensure that their servers had the capacity to meet current and future storage needs, and that they had the performance to run newer applications.  “It is important to be able to easily expand the storage capacities of servers as needed”, indicated Mr. Traore. Computer servers must be replaced every 3-5 years and their software regularly updated to newer versions. ​There must be additional servers for specific tasks and services – for example, a web server for online and remote training, accounting server, database server, mail server, and others.

Connectivity

Since robust connectivity is a key enabler for online learning, African universities must therefore ensure that students and faculty have broadband access to the Internet and adequate wireless connectivity. Special focus must be on the equity of access both inside and outside of the campus.

Network Engineers were advised to plan to offer a minimum of 10 mbps total bandwidth to each student and WIFI solutions must cover the whole campus including the students’ dormitories to enable them to learn from anywhere. Campus networks must implement at least the 802.11N wireless technology standard in the 5GHZ band to facilitate maximum coverage and connection for students and faculty.

Device access

Universities were called to allow students to use their own personal wireless devices in a safe and secure manner. Mr. Traore also said that content filtering and restricted guest user access must be implemented to protect the universities’ internal network resources.

It is the duty of university leaders to ensure that every student and faculty member have at least one internet access device – a smartphone, laptop, tablet, and or desktop – including appropriate software and resources for research, collaboration, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration in and outside campus.

Universities ought to design and implement plans for accommodating students who either do not have access to devices or lack devices that are compatible with the official campus learning management system.

Learning Management System (LMS) Use

African Universities were advised to ensure that they offered a digital and distance learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, Sakai, Blackboard or other preferred LMS.

There ought to be clear instructions given to students concerning how to use the LMS and tips for navigating the specifics of a course.

Technical Support and Training

Universities were advised to prepare their Information Technology (IT) support staff to provide just-in-time support to students and faculty members.

There must be a plan for continuous Professional Learning Opportunities for university IT staff. Mr. Traore mentioned observing over the period, that many of the universities were not creating such learning opportunities for their staff, therefore universities ought to refine their goals and set a focus on this area since changes happen frequently in the IT sector. Adding, that the modes and frequency of professional learning activities need to be clarified as an institutional policy.

Mr. Moussa Traore Presenting at the 7th ACE Impact Workshop
Mr. Moussa Traore Presenting at the 7th ACE Impact Workshop

Provide Access to Technology and Support

Universities need to identify and put in place support mechanisms to help students and faculty when they experience technical difficulties. Such a support plan, when adopted should be communicated to all faculty and students.

An annual training program on the use of the university LMS must be developed and shared with faculty and students. Offering educational technology support to faculty and students increases their digital literacy declared Mr Moussa Traore.

Quality Digital Content and Resources

The technologies that are deployed must be fit for purpose and should facilitate the management and provision of learning materials. Again, African Universities were advised to support the development and use of openly licensed educational materials to promote innovative and creative opportunities for all learners and to accelerate the development and adoption of new open technology–based learning tools and courses.​

Mr. Traore also advised universities to take inventory of all their learning technology resources and align them to intended educational outcomes.

Policies and Governance

Prioritization of the implementation of data initiatives and the collection of data to drive decision-making in African Universities was recommended by Mr. Troare. “To collect data, universities must implement robust Education Management Information System (EMIS) so that they can collect all existing data on students, faculty, and the universities”, he added.

Collected Data must be regularly analyzed to determine whether additional data need to be collected to address priorities. Mr. Traore recommended the creation of a comprehensive map and database of connectivity, device access, openly licensed educational resources, and their usage across the institution.​

Mr. Traore underscored the importance of establishing governance for learning and educational technologies to avoid problems with the efficient delivery of systems, confusion over policy, and variation in the types and quality of services and tools provided.

He stressed the importance of implementing an IT security policy, saying that cybersecurity and cyber safety training for students, faculty and staff in general needed to be prioritized. He also stated that digital and distance learning policies needed to be developed and implemented by African Universities.

Technology Planning and Purchasing

University Leaders were informed that they needed to define their Technology Budgets as a matter of priority. Existing budgets must be reviewed, and an inventory of available technology done. Vice Chancellors must work with their Directors of ICT to determine the costs for upgrading infrastructure and purchasing new devices as well as identify funds to meet short- and long-term goals.

Universities must develop a multi-year plan to support and sustain the costs of technology. Similarly, budgets must be regularly reviewed and refined to accommodate the costs of technology.

Technology Evaluation

In conclusion Mr. Moussa Traore said that the periodic evaluation of all technological solutions was important because this provides opportunities to obtain feedback and improve technological services to benefit both students and faculty. During technology evaluations, universities were advised to reflect on questions such as – Is technology being used effectively? Is technology getting in the way of pedagogy? Are the students engaged in the lessons? ​ Do the faculty staff display or have confidence in the use of the technology? Are the hardware and software installed and configured correctly?​ Are there things that the IT Support team can do to facilitate learning?​

 

Written By: Ms Nodumo Dhlamini, Director ICT Services, Communications & Knowledge Management at AAU

 

Gender Policies in Action – African Higher Education Institutions Urged to Create an Enabling Environment for Women to Grow

Gender Policies in Action – African Higher Education Institutions Urged to Create an Enabling Environment for Women to Grow

Universities and other higher education institutions across the continent have been urged to take radical and positive actions to redress the long-standing gender inequalities in their various processes and ecosystem which continue to hamper women’s progress and effective participation in the sector. Building more resilient and gender inclusive systems, has been recognized as being key to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and the full participation of women and girls in the various thematic subject areas of Higher Education, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM).

Given the enormous benefits that gender inclusivity brings to higher education and indeed, society at large, the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop hosted in Cotonou Benin from 14 -17 June, 2022 prioritized discussions around the promotion and strengthening of policies and processes to particularly empower women and girls. The objective of the plenary session focusing on gender, was to provide an interactive platform for participants to reflect, discuss and be encouraged to create and strengthen policies to promote the attraction, retention and the professional and personal development of women in higher education, especially those in the STEM fields.

The session was ably chaired by Dr. Aissetou Yaye, a distinguished academic and Deputy Centre Leader for the Regional Center of Excellence on Pastoral Productions: Meat, Milk, Hides and Skins (CERPP), in Niger. It featured key presentations and an interactive and highly insightful panel discussion.

Women in STEM in Greater Number and Quality is Key to the Realisation of the Power of STEM – Ms. Lydie Hakizimana

Addressing participants at the workshop, Ms. Lydie Hakizimana, the Chief Executive Officer of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMs) underscored the transformative power of empowered women and girls in the STEM and other fields to nations across the world.

She referenced the legendary all-female army of the Kingdom of Dahomey in Benin, which were referred to as Dahomey Amazons and known for their fearlessness, and equal role in conquering and resisting their oppressors. The Dahomey Amazons clearly demonstrate that women can play equal roles in all institutions – political, military, education, among others.

 

Ms. Hakizimana  noted that societies where women are valued and get the opportunity they deserve tend to flourish and thus it was important for stakeholders to take pragmatic steps to boost the equal participation of women in STEM. She stated, that though women have made inroads in terms of their participation in STEM areas, we are still far from attaining parity and therefore urgent interventions needed to be implemented to increase the quantity of women in STEM.

Citing the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMs) model, Ms. Hakizimana spoke about the various initiatives being implemented by AIMs to increase the number of women in STEM to support Africa’s transformation agenda.  The ‘Girls in Mathematical Science’ programme, launched in Ghana for bright, curious and creative senior high school students and aimed at unlocking their potentials, as well as the awarding of several fellowships to women in the area of climate change to spur the generation of science-based solutions to the challenges related to climate change, were referenced as brilliant examples.

Again, AIMs was said to be guided in all its processes by an established goal of attaining gender parity by the year 2027 and pioneering an innovative learning model for women through education and training. The CEO of the African Institute for Mathematics indicated that the institution was inching close to its target, as about 33% of its alumni, representing more that 25,000 alumni are women in the STEM fields.  She reiterated the institution’s commitment to promoting gender diversity and to creating an inclusive environment for learning and research.

Ms. Hakizimana stressed the important roles of academic institutions in promoting women leadership and in fostering an enabling environment for women to effectively balance their biological roles of motherhood and their careers.

She motivated higher education institutions to identify and break the biases against women in their systems, empower women to reach their full potentials and to recognise the talents of women while ensuring gender inclusion at all levels and in all their processes.

She also called for the strengthening of entrepreneurship as it serves as a key solution to addressing unemployment and empowering women. Summing up her delivery, the CEO of AIMS said that ‘There is no HERO without HER’, implying that women make an unequivocal contribution to solving societies’ developmental challenges.

Various Strategies Employed by Centres of Excellence to Promote the Participation of Women in STEM

A high-level panel discussion was hosted as part of this session on gender, and it featured – Prof. Nahoua Soro of the African Centre of Excellence in Statistics and Quantitative Economics (ENSEA), Cote d’Ivoire; Prof. Barnabas A. Ikyo of the Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER), Nigeria, Prof. Pitala of the Regional Center of Excellence in Avian Science (CERSA); and Ms. Lydie Hakizimana, the Chief Executive Officer of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMs).

Contributing to the discussions, Prof. Nahoua Soro bemoaned the low number of women in science in the lower levels of education, and thus their equally low participation in STEM areas at the higher education level. As a corresponding intervention, the centre introduced a strategy where a Caravan moves round to introduce younger students, especially females to the activities and focus areas of the Centre. According to her, this Caravan initiative, is supported by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the World Bank. The initiative adopts the innovative strategy of having patrons who serve as role models to the girls – including the Minister of Planning and Development of Cote d’Ivoire and the Centre’s female alumni and students who are statisticians.  aside adopting this strategy to encourage young girls to take up studies and careers in statistics, the centre also helps in training and preparing them to take the requisite admission tests and examinations, through provision of materials and computers among others.  It was mentioned that slight improvements in the female participation and enrolment in the Statistical programmes have been recorded, however there remains a lot more to be done to reach the target of having 30% female participation in this area.

For his part, Prof. Ikyo of CEFTER stated that the centre was competitively selected to be part of the ACE Impact project under the able leadership of a female vice-chancellor, thus they highly recognise the power of women and promote women empowerment.  He said that the centre has a good number of females in its team who are competent and merited their appointments, and these included the Deputy Centre Leader and the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer.  He lauded the ACE Impact project for strategically encouraging the Centres to train more female students, by allotting more funds for the attraction and enrolment of females. Speaking to the strategies employed by CEFTER to promote women’s participation and advancement, he mentioned that the Centre introduced a measure requiring all programmes to have female senior academics. The benefits of this intervention, according to him were numerous and included presenting role models to the female students. The centre also introduced student support programmes designed to create the environment for females to thrive and these included the provision of decent accommodation, the introduction of favourable recruitment procedures and the establishment of clear merit-based appointments.

Representing CERSA, Prof. Pitala stated that the centre ensures that its call for applications for candidates encourages females to apply, in a bid to reach a 40% enrolment of females’ status. Additionally, the centre offers scholarships to female students and engages companies where students go for internships to create a conducive environment for their female students, especially those with young children.

Ms. Lydie Hakizimana of AIMs encouraged women and the centres to break biases at three levels which she identified as follows – structural bias (related to societal norms); organisational bias (related to discrimination at the workplace and HEIs) and finally personal bias (where one feels incapable of taking up higher responsibilities and appointments, that is limiting oneself and not taking up challenges)

Discussions By Participants and Key Points for Action

In an open discussion during the question-and-answer session, participants and the panelists identified critical steps to be adopted by the centres and generally African higher education institutions, some of which are captured as follows – firstly, stakeholders were encouraged to unclog the pipeline. By this, it was explained that the efforts to ensure gender parity and equal participation of women in STEM and other subject areas, needed to start from the primary school level. A connected proposal as part of unclogging the pipeline was to engage female teachers to serve as mentors and role models to younger girls.  Secondly, the need to create opportunities to continuously develop the skills of women and to retain women in STEM in the workforce was highlighted.  Stakeholders also called for the implementation and introduction of incentives, and even laws (if possible) to promote females’ improved participation in STEM fields. The engagement of men as allies to support women to move up the ladder was also underscored.   The introduction of innovative techniques, such as the introduction of ‘Miss Mathematics in Senegal’, had proved to be effective, thus stakeholders were encouraged to adopt strategies which would appeal to young girls when engaging them.  Offering of scholarships and setting aside special funds for unearthing and developing the talents of Women in STEM were proposed for adoption by institutions that are yet to implement such strategies.

Ms. Djénéba Gory
Ms. Djénéba Gory

Planned Intervention by AAU and World Bank to Support Centres’ Gender Promotion Efforts

Ms. Djénéba Gory, a consultant and ACE Impact core team member at the World Bank took participants through some of the plans by the World Bank and the Association of African Universities in terms of supporting the centres to increase their female enrolments and retention. These included plans to implement activities such as ‘the women talk series’, the establishment of communities of practice, capacity building sessions in key topical themes, launch of a mentorship programme, organisation of webinars among several others. Ms. Gory called on Centres to support these initiatives, once they were rolled out, taking ownership and being agile in terms of leveraging the initiatives to suit their institutional needs.

 

Written by: Mrs. Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications Officer, AAU

Universities Planning Digital Transformation Initiatives Advised to Consider the C-CoDE Model

Effective and learner-centered digital transformation of African higher educational institutions requires a holistic and sustainable approach so that the intended outcomes from higher education can be realized. A well-thought-out digital transformation strategy by African Universities would also ensure that budgets are identified, staff and students are continuously trained, appropriate infrastructure is set up, sustainability and partnership plans are implemented, and supportive institutional policies and strategies are put in place.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, the infrastructural challenges and limitations in Africa’s higher education system further exacerbated equity & access challenges. Digital Skills among faculty and students were also identified to be a major challenge. Faculty in most of the African Universities had limited or no experience with implementing and using online teaching and learning tools, platforms, and methods. Furthermore, most of the teaching content was also found to be inappropriate for online use. Again, emergency online teaching methods were not supported by institutional policies and practices. Academic faculty and other stakeholders continue to be concerned about quality assurance and recognition of online courses and programs.

One of the plenary sessions during the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, hosted in Cotonou, Benin, was dedicated to the discussion of digital transformation activities that are supported by the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project (ACE Impact). This session was chaired by Professor Gikiri Thuo, one of the subject matter experts supporting the ACE Impact Project. The session featured a presentation by Dr Dimitris Noukakis from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne who gave a report on the progress of the Centres of Competence in Digital Education (C-CoDE) Initiative being implemented in partnership with the Association of African Universities and six competitively selected ACE Impact Centres since September 2021. The participating ACE Centers are the Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL) at the National Open University in Nigeria; the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Power and Energy Development (ACE-SPED) at the University of Nigeria Nsukka; the Africa Center of Excellence in Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP) and the Center for Dryland Agriculture (CDA) at Bayero University in Kano. The others are the Regional Center for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (RCEES) at the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana; CEA-Centre d’Etudes, de Formation et de Recherche en Gestion des Risques Sociaux (CEFORGRIS) at the Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo in Burkina Faso and Centre d’Excellence Africain en Sciences, Mathématiques, Informatique et Application (CEA-SMIA) at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in Bénin.

Dr. Noukakis said that the C-CoDE model has been well thought-out to address all the dimensions of digital transformation in higher education and to ensure that academics are well trained to drive the transformation themselves. Thus, universities planning to digitally transform their institutions are encouraged to consider the adoption of this model.

Dr. Noukakis explained that the six participating universities are being supported to strengthen themselves towards establishing Centers of Competence in Digital Education on their campuses to promote the sustainable integration of digital education in their teaching processes, as a means of strengthening the quality of teaching as well as the competencies of graduates.

He explained that the C-CoDE concept facilitates the digital transition of Higher Education by addressing key underlying issues such as the adaptation of pedagogy to the digital environment, provision of infrastructure and building of technical competences. The objective of the C-CoDE initiative is to sustainably integrate digital education in African universities. The expected outcome from C-CoDE is strengthened quality education and skilled graduates. Dr. Noukakis said that the C-CoDE model proposes that the solution to digital transformation is to “place all the needed skills, competences and infrastructure under one roof”. The outputs of the C-CoDE concept are resident experts in digital education; a pool of faculty members trained in and championing digital education, and conducive environments/places to design, produce and distribute digital educational content.

Dr. Noukakis said that there were already significant outputs from the C-CoDE initiative since its launch in September 2021.  Using the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) pedagogical model, 18 digital education experts were trained and required to convert one of their courses for online delivery so that they learn the practical skills. Two cohorts, one English and the other French, went through three online workshops that applied the flipped classroom style and tutoring teaching methods. The fourth workshops were held as face-to-face activities in Abuja and Cotonou.

A total of 180 faculty members from the six participating universities are being trained between January 2022 to July 2022, using four facilitated Digital Education Masterclass Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). Twelve Technicians are being trained on-site and would also receive two weeks hands-on training so that they are able to support the digital education studios.

Reflecting on some of the key next steps in relation to the C-CoDE initiative, Dr. Noukakis intimated that the finalization of construction works for the digital education studios in the participating universities is programmed to be completed in July 2022, whilst the procurement of information technology and multimedia equipment is planned for August 2022. Plans are underway, to inaugurate the six C-CoDE centres in September 2022.

Dr. Noukakis concluded by reporting that the training in Digital Education was highly appreciated by the participating academic faculty and institutions. Tutoring and facilitation were also recognized as being very important when training students online. Similarly, the need to add more modularity to the trainings to accommodate busy academics through shorter modules was also mentioned.   Finally, he said that it is important to engage trained faculty in digital course development and to align the sustainability plan of the C-CoDE initiative with universities’ strategies.

During the question-and-answer session, the participants sought to find out how the mindsets of stakeholders could be transformed to accept digital education. In response, Dr. Noukakis advised that motivating academic faculty and students could not be achieved “by just introducing technology”. However motivating people to transform their teaching methods could be achieved through training them and demonstrating the benefits of digital education to the faculty and students. He said that the faculty must understand the whole cycle and must be fully engaged. In addition, institutional policies must be changed to accommodate the adoption of digital education and include learner-centric approaches to digital transformation to ensure the success of the implementation of digital education. Participants at this session were asked to reflect on who was at the center of focus in their campus digital transformation initiatives because campuses need to be organic places that respond to the needs of students.

 

Written By: Ms Nodumo Dhlamini, Director ICT Services, Communications & Knowledge Management at AAU

ACE Impact Stakeholders Interact with the Press on Project Implementation

As part of the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, members of the media were given an opportunity to interact with the project stakeholders in a Press briefing held on 14th June 2022 at Palais de Congres, Contonou in Benin. Present were the Secretary-General of the Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Olusola B. Oyewole, the ACE Impact Task Team Leader and Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank, Dr. Ekua Bentil, and the Centre Leaders from Benin, the host country of the 7th ACE Impact Workshop. These were – Professor Daouda Mama of the Water and Sanitation Centre and Prof. Guy Alitonou of the University of Abomey Calavi’s College of Engineering.

During the briefing, Professor Oyewole highlighted some successes achieved by the project since its inception. He mentioned that the Project’s Development Objective is to improve the quality, quantity, and development impact of postgraduate education in participating universities through regional specialization and collaboration. “ACE Impact is strengthening key thematic areas that address regional challenges, and concurrently improving the capacities of universities to deliver quality training and applied research”, said Prof. Oyewole.  He further noted that 22, 161 students are currently enrolled in the various centres of excellence, undertaking programmes in the different thematic areas of the project. It was added, that out of this number, 2,853 are PhD students, 9,097 are MSc students, and 10, 211 are enrolled in Professional Short Courses. Prof. Oyewole further indicated that Over 7,214 of the students enrolled are females and this represents 33 percent of the overall student population. Additionally, the project had created internship opportunities for 4,766 students to gain practical sector-based skills and expertise. “To boost innovativeness, proffer solutions for solving the continent’s challenges, and contribute to knowledge creation, the centres continue to undertake key research on topical issues” Prof. Oyewole added. He concluded by saying that the AAU was leveraging the brilliant ACE model and promoting it to all other African Higher Educational institutions for adoption to facilitate transformation of the continent’s higher education sector.

Responding to the rationale behind the ACE Impact Project, Dr. Ekua Bentil of the World Bank explained that the project was the first World Bank funded regional higher education initiative for Africa. According to her, the ACE Impact Project was necessitated by the need to develop home-grown skill sets for the labor market as well as applied research that responds to Africa’s developmental challenges. She added that the ACE Project is a model that needs to be replicated to elevate higher education in the region. Replying to a question raised by the press about project extension beyond its five-year duration (2019-2024), Dr. Bentil stated that the possibility of an extension would have to follow a systematic process of review by all partners including the participating governments and the World Bank.

In highlighting support to the Centres by the Project, Professors Alitonou and Mama mentioned that through the project, Centres are benefitting from the provision of enabling teaching and learning environments as well as ultra-modern laboratory equipment and upgraded facilities among other substantial benefits crucial to the enhancement of research, teaching and learning.

The Press Briefing was conducted in a hybrid manner to accommodate both physical and virtual participants. It brought together over 12 local and international journalists out of which five participated virtually. Some ACE Impact Communication Officers from the Centres also participated in the press conference virtually.

 

Written by: Millicent Afriyie Kyei, ACE Impact Communications Officer

Contact: smkandawire@aau.org | Association of African Universities | P. O. Box AN 5744,
Accra-North, Ghana | Tel +233-547-728975 All Rights Reserved © 2022