The Africa Centre of Excellence for Mother and Child Health, hosted by the University of Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) in Senegal, is one of the 53 centres of excellence supported with funding from the World Bank to enhance capacities in post-graduate training and applied research. CEA-SAMEF specializes in training and research in Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition and Public Health. Given the increased ratio of maternal and child mortality in the region (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that Sub-Saharan Africans suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio –200,000 maternal deaths a year), the role of CEA-SAMEF in addressing this challenge cannot be overestimated.
The centre, since its inception has been instrumental in offering quality training in Maternal and Child health as well as publishing impactful research in this area and making impact both nationally and continentally. To date, at least 453 students have been trained by CEA-SAMEF. Of these, 89 are MSc students trained in Public Health, Child Health and Survival, Clinical research, Pediatric Dentistry, Maternal and Child Nutrition while 296 accountsfor the total number of PhD students in Public Health and Nutrition and Human Food, among other programmes.
The center has also provided short-term programmes in the areas of Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care, Post-Abortion Care, Contraceptive Technology, Resuscitation and Pediatric Emergencies offered to health professionals. Currently, over 68 health professionals have received training from the centre. Notably, a total of162 students have also benefitted from practical internship opportunities.
With the aim of improving maternal and child health care and delivery, CEA-SAMEF has published diverse research which has contributed to knowledge and made impactful breakthroughs in Senegalese communities and across the sub-region. These developmental research include Implementation and evaluation of a method for the diagnosis and early management of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Senegal; Control of hepatitis E in pregnant women: preclinical development of a lentivirus vaccine; Prevention of maternal and child malnutrition during the first 1000 days of life in rural areas in Kaffrine, Senegal; Genetic determinism of uterine fibroids in pregnant women in Senegal, among others. Over 31 works by the centre have been published in peer-reviewed and international journals.
To expand its activities, the centre has forged strategic partnership with organizations and other academic institutions to strengthen its work towards quality maternal and childcare within the region. These partnerships also provide a pathway towards project sustainability and continuity. Some of the centre’s partners include PATH, a Washington state nonprofit corporation, the University of Florence in Italy, the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Guinea-Bissau, among others. These partnerships have resulted in the training of health workers, conduction of research to explore ways to curb maternal and child mortality within the sub-regions as well as generating external revenue for the sustainability of the centre. For instance, the UNICEF-CEA-SAMEF partnership is engineering the training of health workers in Guinea-Bissau, while the PATH collaboration seeks to accelerate the availability, adoption, and scale-up of tools to identify severe illness and decrease mortality in children under five years of age in Senegal through collaborative research between both partners. Also, over 30 staff members of the centre have benefited from the staff mobility partnership with the University of Florence. Through these partnerships and other innovative strategies adopted, the centre so far has generated over US$ 320,000 in funds to support its activities.
More importantly, in deepening its community engagements, many inhabitants of Dakar and its environs have benefitted from free health screening conducted by the centres. Over 2000 Senegalese received free screenings on urinary tract infections in children, anemia in adolescents and children, breast, and cervical cancer in women, among others. In addition, the centre operates a mobile clinic serving over 300 people through the provision of free medical assessments such as high blood pressure and sugar levels as well as providing medical guidance and counselling to patients.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Written By: Ms. Nodumo Dhlamini – Director ICT Services, Communications and Knowledge Management at AAU
The ability of any institution to use data is critical because when data is well managed, it can be used to support decision making through the mapping and understanding of emerging data trends. Well managed data facilitate key strategic initiatives and actions that help improve business performance and relationships with stakeholders.
African Universities collect great amounts of data on students, staff, curricula, research, partnerships, and other areas – but more still needs to be done for African Universities to benefit from the data that they collect. Issues hindering them from maximizing the benefits from their data, include weak management information systems, limited data skills, gaps in the data collected, inadequate human resources to manage data functions, and limited institutional policies to promote data prioritization.
In addition, this century is characterized by the prevalence of new data sources that is sometimes referred to as Big Data. This new data emanates from the social media, various online systems, and many ‘silent’ data collection processes. In line with these developments, it is very important that African Universities sift through such data and turn useful and important new data into a resource that informs curricula, student services, partnerships, resource mobilization, among several other important functional areas of universities.
Benchmarking Initiatives for African Universities
There are two major benchmarking initiatives that were initiated for African Universities – the PASET (Partnership for Applied Skills in Engineering and Technology) Regional Benchmarking Initiative developed by the World Bank and the AQRM (African Quality Rating Mechanism) developed by the African Union Commission. Both benchmarking initiatives aim to strengthen the capacities of African Universities to self-study, self-analyze and self-assess using set standards and ultimately use these results to improve their processes and performances. Both the PASET Regional Benchmarking Initiative and the AQRM have a set of indicators that universities use to self-report on their status in relation to these indicators.
The PASET Regional Benchmarking methodology is based on five institutional performance and eight institutional health indicators. The five institutional performance indicators concentrate on Inclusion and Equity; Learning Achievement; Labor Market Outcomes; Research Results; and Technology Transfer Results. The eight institutional health indicators focus on Inclusion and Equity; Quality of Teaching and Learning; Relevance; Internationalization; Research; Community Service & Technology Transfer; Governance & Management; and Financing.
The AQRM benchmarking methodology has three parts, namely institutional general information, institutional level self-rating and programme level self-rating. The institutional general information indicators include Institutional Profile; Student Profile; Facilities; Faculty / Staff Profile; Governance & Management; Teaching & Learning; Linkage with the Industry Sector; Research & Community Outreach; Internationalization; and Rating of Best Three Departments /Subject Areas. The self-rating indicators at institutional level concentrate on Governance & Management; Infrastructure; Finance; Teaching & Learning; Research, Publication & Innovation; and Community/Societal Engagement. The self-rating indicators at programme level focus on Programme Planning & Management; Curriculum Development; Teaching & Learning; Assessment; and Programme Results.
PASET Regional Benchmarking Initiative
At the just ended 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop that was hosted in Benin, Dr Jingwen Mu from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, spoke on the progress that the ACE Impact Host Universities have made towards achieving the goals of the Disbursement Linked Result 7.4 (DLR7.4) which encourages the Host Universities to participate in the PASET Regional Benchmarking initiative. DLR7.4 is one of the sub- indicators that is used by the ACE Impact Project to measure the impact of the project on the overall universities’ functions, that is, how the project is impacting the processes at the universities’ institutional levels.
The first PASET benchmarking pilot in 2014 involved seven universities, the second round in 2016 involved 31 universities, and the third round in 2018 involved 26 universities. These earlier benchmarking activities revealed that the participating universities were challenged with reporting and finding the data that was required as part of self-benchmarking. For example, during the 2018 and 2021 PASET Benchmarking exercises, the participating universities said that they needed support in the areas of institutional research, quality assurance, MIS (management information systems) capacity development and conducting benchmarking and graduate tracer studies. These declared needs by the universities proved that they were facing difficulties in meeting the full benchmarking data requirements of the PASET self-benchmarking methodology. MIS support was identified by participating institutions as a top critical area where support was most needed.
‘As part of revising the PASET self-benchmarking methodology, the project team decided to initially assess the data systems maturity of ACE Impact Host Universities – instead of requiring that they respond to the set self-benchmarking questions’, said Dr Jingwen Mu. ‘It was within this context that DLR 7.4 proposed a two-phase approach, in which Phase 1 asked ACE Impact host institutions to complete a self-assessment of their institutional data systems’, added Dr Jingwen Mu.
Data System Maturity Survey involving 36 ACE Impact Host Universities
It was reported that a free open source data maturity framework called DataOrchard was chosen and adapted to assess the “data maturity journeys” of all the ACE Impact Host Universities. The data maturity assessment aimed to inspire the universities to work “towards improvement and increased capability in using data”. This Framework, created by Data Orchard CIC, has been developed specifically for the non-for-profit sector and has seen its adoption by higher education institutions. It was mentioned that the adapted version of the Framework for ACE Impact institutions is a simplified version that encourages participants to focus on three key themes of a healthy data system – People, Technology, and Culture. The host institutions’ survey responses were aggregated and rated at both the ‘theme-level’ and the ‘overall level’ and classified into one of the five stages of data system maturity: Unaware, Emerging, Learning, Developing, and Mastering.
Dr. Jingwen Mu reported that 36 ACE Impact host institutions had participated in the Data System Maturity Assessment as part of preparing them for the PASET self-benchmarking. The findings from the data system maturity assessment were that the participating universities fell into three categories – 14 host universities were found to be in the Learning Group in terms of their data systems maturity; 19 host universities were placed in the Developing Group and 3 host universities were placed in the Mastering Group.
Three Host Universities graded in the mastering group were said to be most advanced in the way that they collect, manage, and use their data. Mastering Universities are very comfortable using data to ask difficult and complex questions, explained Dr. Mu.
Nineteen Host Universities in the developing group were reported to be starting to use and share data at institutional levels. People from various teams and levels of seniority in these institutions regularly discuss data and how to use it, expounded Dr. Mu.
Fourteen Host Universities in the learning group were said to be characterized by the fact that data was beginning to be recognized as important at more senior levels, however access to data was still challenged.
Dr. Jingwen Mu said that even those universities that were graded to be masters, also have much more to learn towards improving their data management systems. Dr. Jingwen Mu also cautioned that the results of the ACE Impact Data System Maturity Assessment needed to be interpreted in the context of the adapted version of the data maturity framework and in the context of the PASET DLR 7.4 objectives.
As a follow up to the Data System Maturity Assessment, the ACE Impact host universities were given a personalized report that indicated areas of strengths and weaknesses. Currently these institutions are developing institutional intervention plans as their responses to the outcomes of the Data System Maturity Assessment, said Dr Jingwen Mu.
During the question-and-answer session, the participants asked for advice on how to handle resistance by team members to new ways of handling data. Dr. Jingwen Mu said that in the context of Africa, it was important to demonstrate what faculty currently do and what they can do with data or how they can improve their processes because of data. She advised that staff needed to be educated about the importance of data in helping universities better engage students and stakeholders. Such efforts in demonstrating the usefulness of data would reduce their resistance, advised Dr. Jingwen Mu.
Key Lessons for other African Universities
Data capability is very important for the sustainability and relevance of African Higher Education Institutions (HEIs); thus, it is important that HEIs strengthen their data skills, transform their data cultures and reinforce their data management technologies.
Assessing the data systems maturity of African Universities might be an important starting point as opposed to insisting that the universities move straight into self-benchmarking. The value of the data systems maturity assessment is that it prepares the universities to provide the required data during self-benchmarking.
There is an opportunity for the two benchmarking methodologies (PASET and AQRM) to integrate the good aspects of the other – and for the universities that have used these methodologies to share experiences.
The adapted data systems maturity assessment could be deployed across all interested universities in Africa – and this would assist the universities to advance their journeys towards data systems maturity.
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
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