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).

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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.

ACEs Lead Health Research in Infectious and Genetic Diseases

Through partnerships with various international and local institutions, some of the health focused Africa Centres of Excellence are involved in research which is seeking answers to solving some of humanities challenges and curbing diseases. ACEGID for instance is part of a consortium conducting numerous studies (including an epidemiology study) in line with preparations for the trials of safe, effective, and affordable vaccines for Lassa fever. The centre was also the lead in sequencing the first case of Ebola in Nigeria within 48 hours, a singular feat that led to early containment, management, and control of the disease in Nigeria, and hence saving lives of the many people who could have been infected by the disease.

With an estimated number of about 14, 000 babies born each year with sickle cell disease in Ghana alone, the West Africa Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC) is focusing on undertaking key research on sickle cell diseases. WAGMC is also involved in continental level initiatives, projects and networks including the Sickle Cell Diseases Genomics Network of Africa (SickleGenAfrica).  Other key focus areas of the research conducted by the centre include Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cancer.

The Centre for Mycotoxin and Food Safety (ACEMFS) is focusing its research on mitigation against mycotoxins for food safety and improved public health and trade. The centre conducts regional surveillance of chemical residues that is, heavy metals, veterinary drug and pesticides residues and hydrocyanic acids in cassava food products among others.

The involvement of some Centres of Excellence in conducting research focused on the characterization of malaria pathogens needs to be underscored. Professor Diabate Abdoulaye, the Centre Director for the African Center of Excellence in Biotechnology Innovation for Vector-borne Disease Elimination (CEA/ ITECH-MTV) for instance, received the Newcomb Cleveland Prize for his outstanding research on fighting malaria in Africa. All these efforts are in line with fostering world-class research excellence and providing lifesaving information and research findings on disease prevention and treatment.

Excellent Science and Advocacy by ACEGID (Nigeria) & Partners sees the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreeing to rename Monkeypox

Written By Mrs Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi

The Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Nigeria (ACEGID, Redeemer’s University) has since June 2022 been leading a team of scientists from Africa and beyond to advocate for the renaming of the Monkeypox virus by the World Health Organisation. This advocacy was rooted in the need to counter discrimination and stigmatization of Africa after recent global outbreaks of the Monkeypox disease proved that the disease had no clear link to Africa, yet the current classification of the two types of recognized Monkeypox variants (clades), bear names which are traced to Africa – that is the ‘West African’ clade and the ‘Central African Clade, also known as the ‘Congo Basin’ Clade. It is expected that the renaming exercise will align with best practices and help to eliminate racism, discrimination and stigmatisation.

In a scientific publication, Professor Christian Happi, the Centre Leader of ACEGID, and the rest of the scientists explained that references to the 2022 outbreak as belonging to the “West African” or “Western African” clade/strain is inaccurate, given that the origin of the current global outbreak is still unknown.  Besides, the naming of diseases after the geographical locations where they were first detected is in contrast with the best practice of avoiding geographic locations in the nomenclature of diseases and disease groups as outlined in the WHO’s Guidelines for the naming of infectious diseases.

The scientists succeeded through their position paper to call on WHO to adopt a novel classification/name that is “non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing and aligned with best practices in the naming of infectious diseases in a way that minimizes unnecessary negative impacts on nations, geographic regions, economies and people, as well as considers the evolution and spread of the virus”. The recent example of naming adopted for SARs-CoV-2 (COVID-19), is cited as being a good example to follow.

WHO indicates that between January 1 and June 22 this year, 3413 laboratory-confirmed cases and one death have been reported to the organisation from 50 countries. It states that the majority of laboratory confirmed cases which have been reported are from the WHO European Region (86%), while the African Region (2%), Americas (11%), Eastern Mediterranean Region (less than 1%) and Western Pacific Region (less than 1%) have also recorded cases.

Despite Africa recording a very small percentage of cases, the scientists engaged in the advocacy explained that ‘the prevailing perception by the international media is that the disease is endemic in people in some African countries”.  Professor Happi and team referenced the use of photos of African patients to portray the disease as a clear example of this perception.  This is further corroborated by a statement issued by the Foreign Press Association, calling on the global media to desist from the usage of images of Africans to depict the outbreak of the disease in Europe.

The scientific research, high-quality publication, and advocacy by ACEGID and their collaborating partners and researchers can be said to have paid off as WHO announced that it is “working with partners and experts from around the world to change the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.”

In a separate interview granted by Prof. Happi to a News Media, he called on all relevant stakeholders to collaborate and work even more closely to contain the virus “as we live in a globalised world” wheere an infectious disease that breaks out in the farthest corner of the world could appear in the World’s busiest capitals and metropolitans within 36 hours

He also called for the same level of attention and global enthusiasm to combat the virus, stating that “paying attention to disease wherever it happens benefits everyone,” he added in an interview with the Washington Post.

ACEGID is one of the 53 Africa Centres of Excellence under the ACE Impact Project.  Through the Africa Centres of Excellence for Development Impact Project (ACE Impact), scientists like Prof. Christian Happi and many others have been empowered to be Africa’s leading voices on key issues concerning the five thematic subject areas of the Project – Health, Agriculture, STEM, Environment, Applied Social Science & Education.

WACCBIP (Ghana) Diagnoses Genetics of Hearing Impairment in Ghana

Written By Millicent Afriyie Kyei

The West Africa Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) hosted by the University of Ghana since its inception in 2014, has been at the forefront of addressing health-related challenges in the region through applied scientific and biomedical research in infectious and non-communicable diseases as well as human genetic research. There have been numerous breakthroughs demonstrating development impact, through the cutting-edge research conducted by the centre. One of the major research innovations is the diagnosis of the genetics of hearing impairment in Ghana.

Adamorobe, a community in the Akuapim South District in the Eastern region of Ghana has a characteristically high incidence of hereditary hearing impairment (HI). It is therefore not surprising that marriages between deaf persons were barred in the town in 1975, to curb the rate of deaf offspring. To further understand the cause(s) of the hearing impairment, WACCBIP, with its modern next-generation sequencing approaches investigated this challenge by recruiting thirty (30) individuals from eight (8) multiplex families (20 affected and 10 unaffected) from the community, and found the families had GJB2 mutations (GJB2 is an important gene for hearing.  Specific mutations in this gene causes hearing impairment).

As part of a nationwide study investigating the genetic causes of hearing impairment in Ghana, the centre collected samples from all 11 schools for the deaf across the country. The study identified a founder mutation (GJB2-R143W) that accounts for over a quarter of inheritable hearing impairment cases in Ghana. The findings also indicated a 1.4 per cent carrier frequency rate among 145 healthy Ghanaians who were screened randomly, suggesting that among every 145 Ghanaians, two are likely to carry the defective gene that can be passed on to their children. Therefore, the number of hearing-impaired patients in Ghana could silently increase if this gene was not checked.

Cumulatively, the GJB2 founder variant accounted for 42% (37/88) of families, with the majority of GJB2 positive cases observed in participants from the Eastern Region, where Adamorobe is located. Evolutionary analysis also revealed that Ghanaian families segregating the variant are descendants of a common indigenous ancestor who lived approximately 385 generations (approximately 9625 years) ago.

As part of its interventions to reduce the burden of the condition, WACCBIP started a public and policy engagement to create awareness for the genetics of hearing impairment.  A diagnostic test with high sensitivity and specificity to screen newborn babies for common hearing impairment mutations within the Ghanaian population was designed. In addition, the centre is generating and analysing exome data to identify novel hearing impairment gene variants in the country. Lastly, considering the current findings on the contribution of GJB2 in Ghana, it is imperative to reflect on the previously reported policy document for adoption and expansion of the existing premarital counselling to include GJB2 founder variant carrier testing like how the sickle cell disease counselling is handled.

The diagnosis of the genetics of hearing impairment in Ghana by WACCBIP is an example of how this centre of excellence is addressing a national development challenge because it has been strengthened through the ACE Impact Project to conduct relevant, high-quality and impactful research.

 

Experts Encourage Centres to Prioritize Networks and Partnerships

The ACE Impact subject matter experts play a critical role by providing implementation support and guidance to the centres in meeting project objectives in the thematic areas of health, agriculture, education, social Sciences and STEM, within the project stipulated timelines. They bring on-board diverse expertise and knowledge in both academia and industry to drive centres towards achieving the project goals as well as consolidating and streamlining their efforts in line with global standards as centres of excellence.

The 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop provided an opportunity for centres to interact with the subject matter experts during the thematic break-out sessions held on Thursday, June 16, 2022. The break-out sessions featured the following thematic areas: Health, Agriculture, Mining, Energy, and Environment, ICT, Education, Engineering and Urban Transport and Water. Experts assigned to the various thematic areas convened with the centres to assess progress made, challenges encountered and the way forward in addressing these challenges. Summary of the discussions in the thematic areas were shared with participants during the final day on 17th June.

Discussions from the health team was presented by Prof. Michelle Niescierenko, Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She noted centres’ key achievements in the areas of external revenue generation, health policy change, improved delivery of short courses and rapid increase in student enrolment by some health centres, acceleration of research through the Health Networks and International accreditation. For instance, more than $5 million in revenue was generated through grants by the Health Centres- ACENTDFB, ACEGID, ACE-PCMT, ACEPHAP, CaPIC, CERHI, WAGMC, WACCBIP. Also, centres such as ACEDHARS have adopted innovative ways such as the ‘flipped classroom’ methods to redefine online short courses for professional learners. Prof. Niescierenko identified student recruitment as a challenge due to Covid-19 lock downs & travel restrictions, political & security contexts in some host countries and academic staff industrial action. In tackling this challenge, it was acknowledged that although some of these challenges were inevitable and beyond the control of the centres, centres were advised to use their partners to disseminate recruitment materials and develop their students and alumni as their ambassadors to attract more students and increase enrolment. Another key challenge noted concerns internships. She noted that the market for high level scientific research was overestimated in the sub-region leaving only government and NGO sector. However, partnerships with the private sector would provide a long-term solution to addressing the challenge of internships. In addition, complex and delayed procurement processes was mentioned as a major obstacle to accessing consumables, supplies & equipment for science research. It was further noted that the issue of procurement is peculiar to countries therefore University leaders, Center Teams and PSC members were encouraged to work together to identify where bottlenecks can be eradicated. Moving forward, centres were reminded that the project is time-bound hence it remains crucial for activities to be accelerated for maximized use of funds in relation to achieving project targets. Moreover, centres were further encouraged to expand their pool of partners as well as leverage partnerships for knowledge and technology transfer, and research commercialization.

The summary of discussions for the Engineering, Urban & Water Breakout Sessions presented by Prof. J. P. Vandervaere reported that centres in the thematic discipline had made significant progress in the areas of internships and networking. However, key challenges recorded include the narrow scope of regionality in terms of internships and weak inter-ACE networking and partnerships. In addressing these challenges, centres were implored to leverage their partnerships for internship opportunities for their students as well as work more closely with partners to enhance the regional impact, image, and attractiveness of their centres. To strengthen inter-ACE networking and collaborations, centres were advised to leverage on the inter-ACE Networking initiative as well as identify common areas for potential collaborations such as joint research and sharing resources. Furthermore, discussions from the session suggested possible thematic partnerships among the ACEs in the areas of Water & Agriculture; Transport & Health; Engineering & Environment; ICT & Energy. Prof. Vandervaere also highlighted the need for centres to expedite the processes for international accreditation.

Prof. Cyrille van Effenterre, an Engineer and High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES) expert also presented a summary of the agriculture session where he reported that some centres were venturing into entrepreneurship by commercializing some research products. He cited an example of CEFTER where he explained that the centre had commenced a food company, a spin-off of the host University-Benue State University by producing and selling various processed foods including bread, cassava flakes, etc. Other success areas include expansion of partnerships, enhanced community engagements and remarkable steps towards entrepreneurship through the development and implementation of entrepreneurship plan by some centres. The issues of procurement and financial delays, weak institutional impact and publications were captured as operational bottlenecks for the centres. In addressing these challenges, centres were urged to work collaboratively with their governments and universities to jump the procurement hurdle. Again, centres were encouraged to develop a strategy to strengthen research publications as well as engage their various universities for institutional buy-in. For the way forward, recommendations made comprise the need for centres to implement acceleration plans, establish plans for the judicious use of additional funds, design research strategies in close collaboration with industry and academic partners as well as strengthen partnerships and networks including the ACE Impact Inter-ACE network for agriculture- the Food for West Africa Network (Food4WA).

The final presentation on Education and ICT made by Dr. Dimitrios Noukakis acknowledged the role of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in increasing student enrolment especially during the pandemic, the various regional workshops and conferences centres have organized and participated. Notable among these were the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Conference held in Vancouver, Canada, the Cybersecurity and Digitalization Workshop and the Sustainable Integration of Digital Education Conference, both held in Abuja, in March and May 2022 respectively. Centres were also commended for their efforts toward strengthening the inter-ACE network on digital education- African Digital Education Network (ADEN). Key challenges identified signaled the need to improve in the areas of student recruitment, internships, accreditation and research publications. Centres were therefore urged to strengthen the marketing of MSc & PhD programs as well as increase offer of short courses to address skills gaps related to the digitalization as a means to increase student recruitment. For internships, centres were entreated to establish a dedicated internal team to liaise with companies, secure internships, and follow up with students. Centres were further advised to accelerate the international accreditation process by setting up internal committees to manage the process. Considering the fact that online and blended learning are the future of advanced teaching and learning and gradually setting the benchmark for meeting world-class standards in terms of delivery of quality education, centres were encouraged to deploy Learning Management Systems for all Center’s programs as well as train faculties to use the systems effectively.

In contributing to discussions on the presentations, the participants expressed the need for well-performing centres to support the low-performing centres through peer-learning and sharing experiences. Again, it was emphasized that systems should be put in place to facilitate the processes for centres to have their programs internationally accredited. Lastly, the need for the inter-ACE Networks to be extended beyond the ACEs and their host universities was emphasized.

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

 

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