ACE Impact Project Recognised for Key Role in Training Africa’s Next Generation of Leaders and Researchers

The Minister of Higher Education of Cote d’Ivoire, who hosted the 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshops, reiterated the role of the Africa Centres of Excellence as global and international institutions playing an essential role in educating Africa’s future leaders, innovators, and researchers. In a statement delivered on his behalf during the workshop’s closing ceremony on November 3, 2023, Professor Adama Diawara emphasized that Africa is currently undergoing economic and social transformation, with higher education institutions, particularly ACEs, serving as the heart of sustainable growth. He urged African governments, technical and financial partners, and universities to invest in the ACE model and higher education in general. Professor Diawara stressed the significance of capacity building, infrastructure development, and robust partnerships to enhance and advance the impact of these institutions.

Professor Diawara underscored the need for closer collaboration and constant adaptation to effectively address global challenges and overcome the obstacles hindering progress. Prof. Arsene Kobea, the Director of Cabinet of the Minister of Higher Education representing the Minister of Higher Education and delivering the Minister’s speech, paid a glowing tribute to the Association of African Universities and its Secretary General, Prof. Olusola Oyewole, for the unwavering commitment and dedication to championing the advancement of higher education in Africa.

The ACE Impact team, led by the Task Team Leader – Dr. Ekua Bentil from the World Bank Group, and Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, Senior Programme Manager from the Association of African Universities, received accolades for their efficient management of the project’s activities. As Prof. Kobea aptly put it, ‘We don’t change the winning team’.

The World Bank Group, French Development Agency (AFD), and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), were recognised for their pivotal contributions to the ACE Impact project’s success.  The workshop’s success was also attributed to the support from various national level institutions in Cote d’Ivoire, including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, Tourism, Interior, Planning and Development, Economy and Finance, Budget, and State Portfolio.  The local organising team, led by Prof. Arona Diedhiou and Prof. Kone Tidiani were also acknowledged, as were the Technical Advisors to the Ministers, present at the closing ceremony.  The government of Cote d’Ivoire presented project team members, including the Steering Committee Members, Focal Points, and Centre Leaders with traditional souvenirs as a token of appreciation for their monumental contributions.

The address highlighted how peace and stability across Africa serve as a facilitator for realising the fundamental goals and objectives of higher education functions, projects, and institutions.

Reflecting on the Project and Charting the Way Forward

Dr. Ekua Bentil, the ACE Impact Project’s Task Team Leader, provided crucial updates on the project’s progress. Topics covered included the restructuring exercise, disbursement projections, institutional impact, environment and safeguards, and the importance, as well as challenges of accreditation of programmes by the centres. Dr. Bentil called on the Steering Committee Members to duly follow up with their respective country Ministers in finalising key agreements.

ACE Impact centres were encouraged to elevate their celebrations for ACE@10, organising high-level events and bringing the necessary stakeholders, including Ministries, to the table to celebrate 10 years of the ACE programme. They were also advised to leverage the celebrations to showcase the project’s remarkable successes.

Touching on various partnerships currently in the pipeline with potential partners such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the European Union, centres were encouraged to continue to establish quality mutually beneficial partnerships to foster the achievements of their goals.  The various networks established under the project were also urged to continue the conversations started under the Morrocco/Tunisia partnerships.

Dr. Bentil expressed her appreciation to the government of Cote d’Ivoire and the centres of Excellence for a highly successful workshop. She assured the centres that ongoing technical support will continue to be provided, announcing the line up of a series of workshops soon to commence.

This workshop reaffirms the ACE Impact Project’s target of nurturing Africa’s next generation of leaders, innovators, and researchers, setting the stage for a brighter and more sustainable future for the continent.

Regional Networks and ACE Impact Centers: A Sustainability Conversation

One of the key objectives of the ACE Impact Project is to promote regional collaborations and offer scholarships with the goal of catalyzing the growth of these regional partnerships, thereby amplifying the impact in achieving the project’s development objective. The Association of African Universities (AAU) and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) are supporting the strengthening of the ACE thematic networks among the ACEs and their relevant partners. The goals of these thematic networks are to advance collaboration in cutting-edge research and broaden the ACE Centers’ contribution to the knowledge economy.

Through these regional thematic networks, the ACE Impact Centres can contribute towards accelerating scientific research activities anchored in world class academic practices, strengthen the interlinkages between specialized research centers across ACE Institutions, and deepen partnerships among ACE Impact Centres and collaborators across the continent. There are a total of 12 regional thematic networks supported by both the IRD and The World Bank.  These networks cover a range of focus areas, including Agriculture, Health, Education, Energy, Urban and Transport, Environment, Sustainable Mining, Water, Digital Science & Technology, and a network specifically dedicated to Colleges of Engineering. The IRD-supported networks are managed under the IRD’s PARTNERs initiative.

On Friday 3rd November 2023, Dr. Chantal Vernis, the Director of the Department of Research Capacity Building and Innovation for Development at IRD, chaired over the panel discussion concerning sustainability and regional networks.

The panelists who participated  were Dr. Gaoussou Camara, who serves as the Coordinator of the Digital Science and Technology Network (DSTN) at Alioune Diop University of Bambey; Dr. Peter Quashie, representing the West African Network on Infectious Diseases (WANIDA) at the University of Ghana, Professor Fifatin François-Xavier, from the University of Abomey Calavi, West Africa Sustainable Engineering Network for Development (WASEND) and Professor Jibrin Jibrin, a member of the Food for West Africa Network (FOOD4WA) at Bayero University.

The objective of the session was to provide an interactive discussion on leveraging regional networks to increase sustainability of the ACE Impact Centres. The moderator posed questions on the value addition of the network in increasing the sustainability of the participating centres and the challenges faced by the networks.

The value addition of the networks in increasing sustainability of the participating centres.

As articulated by Dr. Gaoussou Camara, the African proverb “alone we go fast but together we go further” forms the basis for explaining the enhanced value provided by the regional thematic networks. For instance, conducting collaborative capacity building programmes in research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer has proven to be more effective when approached from a network-oriented perspective. This approach offers cross learning opportunities and allows for the leveraging of high-quality trainers, leading to greater effectiveness. These collaborative efforts enable pooling of financial resources, leading to more sustainable impact and efficient utilisation of the limited resources.

Network members appreciate the networking opportunities as they can establish deeper connections with one another, fostering additional collaborative engagements that contribute to the sustainability of the networks. The collective initiatives organized by these networks facilitate profiling the participating centres and empower effective advocacy in garnering support for the work of their centres.

A regional thematic network must bring value that centres don’t have without the network”, said Dr Peter Quashie from the WANIDA network. The WANIDA network has linked the participating centres to expertise that they lack, fostering robust relationships between colleagues from both Anglophone and Francophone backgrounds. Involvement in a regional thematic network encourages the centres to participate in events and activities that ordinarily they would not do alone, for example the WANIDA startup competition.  The WANIDA network has played a pivotal role in enabling student and academic mobility across the network, with support for students attending conferences and publishing their work.

Dr Professor Fifatin François-Xavier explained that through the WASEND network the visibility of the participating centres had been increased. Other value additions of the network included mobility of technicians, mentorship in the research areas, strengthened peer learning among students, learning of foreign languages by students and staff and sharing of digital resources for the benefit of doctorate students.

Professor Jibrin Jibrin said that the FOOD4WA network was registered in Togo as a legal entity to enable it to mobilize resources on behalf of the members. The FOOD4WA network is addressing food security issues and assisting governments with the development of agricultural policies. A recent international conference held in Kano, Nigeria significantly elevated the profile of FOOD4WA network and the participating centres by showcasing their ongoing activities. Professor Jibrin Jibrin further mentioned “We are currently developing inventories of equipment available and research experts available in the network – and this will help us leverage the equipment and expertise resident within the network”.

Challenges faced by regional networks.

Enhancing the governance of the networks to ensure their long-term sustainability emerged as a key focal point in discussions. Establishing a governance structure would facilitate the development and execution of long-term, economically viable funding models for the networks. The absence of a funding model posed challenges for certain centres in securing the financial resources necessary to align their 4-year PhD programs with the project’s 3-year funding for PhD students.

Certain networks have encountered difficulties in coordinating and reaching a consensus on primary activities, particularly in relation to aligning with the ACE Impact project’s timelines and determining the feasibility of various initiatives. The research culture in most African Universities is recently emerging which poses a challenge when expertise in specific areas is required. challenges are being addressed through the provision of translation and interpretation services. This approach is a valuable lesson networks have taken from the ACE Impact project, which consistently provides translation and interpretation support for meetings and associated materials. Networks face challenges with capacity building for researchers in specialized areas such as green hydrogen and others.

Questions from the audience

The audience posed questions that revolved around various aspects including the rationale behind the one-year rotational leadership within the FOOD4WA network. They also enquired about strategies for fostering complementarity among networks instead of fostering competition. Furthermore, questions were raised about the sources of funding for the networks beyond the support from the World Bank and IRD, and methods networks should employ to secure long-term funding.

Responses to questions from the audience

Participants were informed that the annual rotational leadership was informed by the ACE Impact project duration. The funding Models that the networks are using include leveraging funds from other projects, enumerating the successes of the network to justify investments by development partners, centres paying for expert services provided by the networks and developing funding proposals that incorporate overheads for running the networks. The networks also aligned their activities to the ACE Impact project disbursement indicators so that they could earn funds for delivering on those DLIs. Other potential sources of funding include leveraging patents/IPR and charging annual membership fees the member Centres.

The Secretary General of AAU shared that the AAU had established the African Research and Development Networks and Universities to bring together several peer African institutions and researchers that are willing to work together, with a view to generating a critical mass that could more effectively support development initiatives in the continent.

Summary and key recommendations

To create balanced participation by all the Centers within a network there’s a need to cultivate teamwork, clarify roles and responsibilities, assign roles to different centres, consider rotating leadership of the network, and consider full time administrative employees at the network’s secretariat.

To address the challenges faced by the networks, they must amplify everything that they do to create high visibility and attract partners and funders. The goal must be for the networks to be recognized at continental and global levels.

The regional thematic networks must focus on the relevance of what they do. It requires effort to have an efficiently run network and it is possible!

ACE Impact Experts Deliberate Strategies for Enhancing Sustainability and Bolstering Center Support to Attain Key Milestones by December 2025

The ongoing ACE Impact 10th Regional Workshop in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, featured an Experts Group meeting where thematic experts supporting the Centres of Excellence engaged in critical discussions and exchanges of experiences, to enrich their strategies and reinforce their support to the centres, as the project approaches its culmination in 2025.

The thematic expertise of the group encompasses the areas of Engineering, Energy/Environment, Water, Mining, Urban/Transport, Education, Health, Agriculture, ICT and Education, in alignment with the key focus areas of the ACE Impact Project.

The core topics guiding these discussions included sustainability, centre networks, and a dedicated focus on reviewing the newly established Moroccan partnerships since the last ACE Impact workshop in Morocco in May 2023.

The significant timeframes for the upcoming project period, which extends from present until December 2025, marking the deadline for the completion of all activities, were emphasized. Each expert was tasked with ensuring that their centres strictly adhere to these pivotal schedules and collaborate closely to accomplish the core targets. A detailed schedule was provided for the completion of all civil works, procurement, and other vital aspects of the project.

The essential sustainability aspects, which encompass economic, organizational, and environmental factors, were carefully discussed, and strategies to promote sustainability as a priority within the center-level activities were underscored. Methods for generating funding to support the centers related costs, such as research and innovation costs, education expenses, and operating costs were suggested. Emphasis was placed on promoting university cost-sharing and involving industry as part of the centre’s sustainability strategy.

Key revenue streams outlined to be pursued by the centres as part of their sustainability measures included grants, commercialised services, philanthropic contributions and partnerships with development and private sectors aligned with national and regional priorities.  It was reiterated that host institutions should serve as the primary source of funding for the centres, as they are the overall institution facilitating the activities of the centres.  The importance of visioning in terms of resourcing was underscored, helping to guide well budgeted plans and activities, in line with the goals and vision of the centres.

Concerning the key success factors contributing to the ongoing excellence and sustainability of the centres, it was emphasized that strong leadership, specialized programming or institutions, innovative curriculum and pedagogy, as well as a commitment to quality and gender inclusivity, are all indispensable. International partnerships, groundbreaking research, and innovations were recognized as core features of the typical centers of excellence brand, which should be vigorously pursued beyond the current project’s funding phase.

 

The Value of Networking as a Sustainability Measure

The expert meeting also featured an engagement session with the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), focusing on the ACE Partner Project. This initiative aims to promote the influence and collaboration of thematic research networks between African Centres of Excellence, and key actors in quality education and research, mobilised around national and regional developmental issues. It is an institutional collaboration between the World Bank, the Association of African Universities, the French Development Agency (AFD), the IRD, and Inria.

Currently, four networks are being supported under this project: Digital Science and Technology (DSTN), West African Network for Infectious Diseases ACE (WANIDA), Responsible Mining and Sustainable Development (AMR2D), and Sustainable Water Management (RES’ EAU). These networks have played a pivotal role in enhancing the research capacities of centers, promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, and focusing on the sustainability of the centers.

The meeting emphasized the significant value of the connections and platforms created for the centers to engage with each other through these thematic networks. Such platforms have yielded positive outcomes and fostered partnerships among the centers, leading to collaborative research, student exchanges, and various impressive initiatives.

As the Network’s funding under the IRD Project approaches its conclusion in 2024, the team discussed key lessons learned and the measures that contributed to the successes recorded by the networks.  The experts stressed the need for the networks to diversify their engagement and promote cross collaborations between the networks to further strengthen the quality impact being made. They also highlighted the importance for all partners, including themselves, gradually withdrawing from the role of facilitating the networks’ activities to promote self-sufficiency.  The proposal to engage in scenario planning to establish measures for expanding the networks and ensuring their effective operation beyond the funding period was stressed as a critical step.

In conclusion, the experts stressed the importance of ensuring that the networks’ activities complement those of the Centers of Excellence. They also encouraged the team to launch a campaign to effectively communicate the story, value proposition, and remarkable successes achieved by the Networks. Team members were also briefed by the IRD on a survey being conducted to elicit information for this campaign. The team received updates from the World Bank regarding the key goals to be achieved as the project concludes in 2025.

Vice Chancellors meet to explore lessons from international accreditation and impact evaluation

On the 1st of November 2023 Eunice Yaa Brimfah Ackwerh the Senior Education Specialist from the World Bank moderated a session for at least 40 Vice Chancellors and DLI7 focal persons to deliberate on key lessons from international accreditation exercises and the recently completed nimble impact evaluation of all the Africa Centres of Excellence – ACE 1, ACE 2 and ACE Impact.

Eunice Yaa Brimfah Ackwerh at the 10th ACE Impact Workshop
Eunice Yaa Brimfah Ackwerh speaking at the 10th ACE Impact Workshop

Three organisations dealing with international accreditation participated in this session, the Accreditation Agency for Study Programmes in Engineering, Informatics, Natural Sciences and Mathematics (ASIIN), the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES) and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). Dr Zakia Mestari and Dr Pierre Courtellemont represented HCERES virtually, Dr. Iring Wasser from ASIIN attended the meeting in person and Dr Chris Bland from QAA participated virtually.

Lessons learned during the international accreditation processes.

Several important lessons were shared regarding international accreditation processes, and among these, it was emphasized that financial gain from disbursement linked results should not serve as a primary motivation for international accreditation. The motivation must be associated with the vision and strategy of the university to offer internationally accredited programs that facilitate student mobility and attract fee paying students from the region and beyond to ensure the sustainability of ACE Impact Centres.

Dr Iring Wasser conveyed additional insights which included the necessity for universities to engage in comprehensive preparation, the significance of accrediting teams showing cultural sensitivity, the importance of standardizing terminology, the need for universities to showcase ACE Impact Centres on their websites, the value of presenting concise and specific information and not voluminous data, and finally universities’ willingness to embrace innovative teaching methods.  The potential to create an African database containing internationally accredited programs and courses was identified. Such a database could serve as an integral part of a legal framework aimed at facilitating students’ mobility not only within Africa, but also on a global scale. The European Ministers of Education have approved a whitelist database of internationally accredited European programs to facilitate academic mobility among European countries.

What is the value of international accreditation?

The Vice Chancellors restated that international accreditation was a key ingredient in building trust in the national accrediting systems because of the global benchmarking. The University of Djibouti Vice Chancellor, Professor Djama Hassan Mohamed, said that his university had benefited from the international accreditation assessment process because it got all the university stakeholders involved. “The international accreditation process enables our students to present their credentials in other countries and empowers us as a university to progress towards maturity in terms of offering high quality programs and services.” – said Professor Djama Hassan Mohamed, the University of Djibouti VC.

Accreditation as a method of sustaining the ACE Impact Centres

International accreditation represents a viable strategy for ACE Impact centres to ensure their sustainability. This is because both institutional and program accreditation enhances the visibility and global recognition and acceptance of universities and programs among students, faculty, potential partners, and funding sources. An institution or program that holds international accreditation is better positioned to generate revenue through its academic and research offerings. There are opportunities for strengthening the relationship between national accreditation agencies and international accreditation agencies – especially around capacity building and keeping abreast of global accreditation trends. Emerging areas of accreditation include the certification of lifelong learning and micro-credentialing.

Nimble evaluation of the African Centers of Excellence and the need for long-term sustainability

Dr. Jamil Salmi, a World Bank Higher Education Consultant, led the Vice Chancellors through a reflection on the prospects for the sustainability of the ACE Impact centres and defining strategies for financial sustainability. “Much of the Centres had made impressive progress – sustainability was still a major concern because the majority of the centers operate primarily as project units and lack stable staff complements and durable institutional basis” – cautioned Dr Jamil. He also warned that “the pressure and need to generate resources may cause some centers to compromise their core teaching and research missions”.

Dr Jamil also advised the Vice Chancellors that “sustainability must be viewed as a shared responsibility involving the host institutions, governments, donor community and the ACE Impact centres. All actors must work together, there must be institutional autonomy, financial management must be aligned, and planning is of utmost importance from the outset”, added Dr Jamil.

A vibrant question and answer session followed Dr Jamil’s presentation and the inquiries included what the key characteristics of sustainable Centres were? What must universities do when governments reduced funding to universities that had high revenue generation profiles? What was the ACE Impact program sustainability strategy during the design of the project? Why should academics become business experts when their role is seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake? Why do we focus on research commercialization and not on engaging the market before commencing in research activities?

The discussions concluded that projects such as the ACE Impact may not always be able to resolve national policies that are not functioning effectively. Instead, university leadership should maintain an ongoing dialogue with a broad spectrum of national stakeholders to address the policy challenges. Solving real industry problems is certainly the way towards arriving at demand driven products and services that would be easily commercialized. Some centers have developed their capacities for revenue generation and that of their host universities – however global experiences demonstrate that we need to take a long-term view of the time needed for the transformation of universities / centers.

A Transformational Journey: Elevating African Higher Education through ACE Impact Project

The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) continues to make impressive strides toward its mission of enhancing higher education in Africa. As part of its ongoing commitment to realizing project objectives, the ACE Impact Project conducts bi-annual assessments of its progress during its regional workshops, using Disbursement Linked Indicators (DLIs) to measure various key areas, including student enrollment, program accreditation, resource mobilization, research publication, development impact, entrepreneurship, and innovation. These assessments are critical in evaluating the project’s overall impact and ensuring that it aligns with its goals. 

During the 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshop in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, various presentations were made on October 31, 2023, to assess the centres progress in line with the project’s overarching goal of transforming higher education in Africa to deliver high-quality graduates, bridge the skill gap, and foster quality research and innovative approaches to address the region’s developmental challenges. 

Remarkable Progress and Achievements 

During the workshop, Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, Senior Manager of the ACE Impact Project, highlighted the substantial progress made by the project. Notable achievements included the enrollment of 8,231 MSc and 2,828 PhD students, with 8,491 of them being female and 8,182 regional students. Additionally, 31 programs received international accreditation, and an impressive $75 million was raised in externally generated revenue by the centers.  

Dr. Sylvia Mkanadawire, Senior Program Manager, ACE Impact- AAU

She further reported on centers’ efforts in pioneering innovations to tackle development challenges. One of the standout features of the ACE Impact Project is its commitment to addressing developmental challenges through innovation. It was observed that the centers have assumed a pioneering role in developing creative and innovative solutions to address challenges in critical priority areas such as agriculture, STEM, and environmental.  

Examples include CEFTER’s efforts in developing food preservation technologies like crop dryers, freeze driers, fish processing machines, and threshers, fruit juice pasteurizers, CEA-MITIC’s tech-driven solutions to promoting green technology and climate change adaptation, and CEALT’s students creating a transport management app and recycling solutions. 

Recognizing the significance of sustainable partnerships, especially as the project nears its conclusion in June 2025, exploratory discussions are ongoing with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), among other potential partners, with the aim of identifying alternative funding options and establishing meaningful collaborations that will support the ACEs beyond the current funding from the World Bank Group and AFD. 

In addition, Mrs. Adeline Addy, the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager for ACE Impact, underscored the continuous efforts of the centers of excellence. She observed that during the evaluation of the project’s progress, many centers have surpassed expectations, achieving indicators at levels between 70% and 90% of the project targets. As the project approaches its conclusion, the majority of indicators are well within this range. While commendable strides have been made by the centers in pursuit of project goals, there remain certain challenges, notably in the area of institutional accreditation.

Mrs. Adeline Addy, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, ACE Impact-AAU

Mrs. Addy acknowledged the complexity associated with obtaining institutional accreditation as a contributing factor to this challenge. Nevertheless, the centers are committed to their best efforts in reaching this indicator.  

Regarding disbursement rates, Ms. Maud Kouadio, World Bank Education Consultant working with the ACE Impact project team, reported the current status falls between 40% and 80%, with a projected increase to 80% to 90% by June 2024. Centers received a strong call to remain dedicated to achieving these targets and optimizing their utilization of funds. These insights underscore the impressive advancements made by the ACE Impact project and the unwavering determination and dedication of the centers to not only meet but surpass their objectives, despite grappling with challenges along the way. The unwavering commitment to these initiatives demonstrates a commitment to the transformation of higher education across the African continent. 

Ms. Maud Kouadio, Education Consultant, World Bank

ACE Partner Project’s Contribution 

The ACE Partner Project, funded by the French Development Agency (AFD), supports thematic networks in sustainable water management, infectious diseases, digital science and technology, and mining and sustainable development. This initiative brings together 23 ACEs across eight West African countries to strengthen collaboration in training, collaborative research and capacity building. Dr. Quentin Delpech, Senior Education Consultant at AFD, reported on the ACE Partner activities highlighting achievements such as partnerships with six institutions, 52 scholarships, 49 research programs, 63 inter-ACE research publications, over 4 million Euros generated, 3500 students trained and successful collaboration with the private sector. 

Dr. Quentin Delpech, Senior Education Consultant, AFD

Sustainability as a Key Focus 

As the ACE Impact and ACE Partner projects approach their respective conclusions in June 2025 and February 2024, sustainability becomes paramount. The ACEs are encouraged to leverage their successes to foster sustainable partnerships and alternative funding opportunities that will support their activities beyond the World Bank Group and AFD funding. 

The ACE Impact Project and its partners remain dedicated to the transformation of African higher education, and their continued efforts are set to leave a lasting impact on the continent’s educational landscape.

Vice Chancellors discuss their roles in championing sustainability, setting priorities, and driving change within their institutions

As the ACE Impact Project comes to a close in June 2025, justifiably the issue of sustaining the 53 Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) projects located in 11 west African countries (including Djibouti) has taken center stage. Over the last decade, ACE Impact centres of excellence have contributed to the continent’s highest quality research and innovations, post-graduate training, infrastructure development, capacity building, achieved international accreditation, and collectively generated over US$75,000,000 in external funding. The ACE program has invested heavily in the development of strategic partnerships and thematic networks in order to ensure longevity. Incorporating sustainability measures into the ACE Impact Projects is therefore essential for maximizing the impact of investments, addressing the specific needs of African countries, and promoting long-term development for African higher education and research. These centres have produced outstanding results and achieved key milestones in the objective to find solutions to Africa’s development challenges and this work must continue beyond the World Bank Group and French Development Agency funded projects.

In accordance with project design, disbursement linked indicator seven (DLI7) is designed to facilitate the achievement of institutional impact goals by the ACE Impact hosting institution. The objective of DLI7 is to foster sustainability by encouraging host universities actively participate in crucial project components. This includes activities such as developing comprehensive regional strategies at the university level, undertaking open, merit-based competitive selection of senior university leaders, and conducting institution-wide international accreditation, gap assessments, and self-evaluations.

During the 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshop hosted in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire from 31st October to 3rd November 2023, a special panel was held for Vice Chancellors to discuss the sustainability of their ACE Impact Centers. This session took place on the 31st of October 2023 at Latrille Events Centre in Abidjan and was moderated by the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities Professor Olusola Bandele Oyewole. Professor Olufemi A. Peters the Vice Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria, Professor Rosemond Boohene the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and Professor Ballao Zié the Vice Chancellor of Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Cote d’Ivoire participated in this panel to share their thoughts on the role of universities in creating an ecosystem for sustainability before the current financial project support comes to an end.

Challenges for sustaining the ACE Impact centres.

In response to the question on challenges around sustainability, Professor Olufemi A. Peters shared that Open Universities operated within a specific context and faced challenges related to limited technical infrastructure, limited access to devices and learning materials, irregular power supply, limited digital literacy of students and staff, academic integrity issues, and risks associated with cyberattacks. To address the challenges associated with regulatory framework support for online learning, the National Open University of Nigeria had involved the National Universities Commission in the planning and development of the open university programmes to create buy-in and assure the sustainability of the university.

Professor Ballao Zié suggested that it was important to prioritize innovative activities and promote a strong research culture and dynamic industry relations. He mentioned that challenges of sustaining the ACE Impact Centers included weak partnerships, the training needs of staff and students, and the unfavorable legal / regulatory frameworks that universities operate under.

Professor Rosemond Boohene emphasized that for ACE Impact Centres to ensure their sustainability, they need to align with their respective university vision and mission, secure strong backing from top management, and receive support from other university departments and administrative functions.

She gave examples of how the University of Cape Coast collaborated across the university units to deliver on DLI7 and DLI 5.3. To implement DLI7, a broad university team worked together on the regionalization strategy and international accreditation. The implementation of DLI 5.3, focused on entrepreneurship, involved a collaboration with the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship. According to Professor Boohene, her university’s most significant sustainability challenge was obtaining government support through a change in fiscal policy. A favourable fiscal policy adjustment would enable universities to secure larger budgets, tax exemptions for importing essential equipment, and financial resources to support the construction of coastal research infrastructure.

Discussions involving the broader workshop participants.

Professor Olusola Oyewole then led a discussion involving all the workshop participants and it focused on national policies hindering the sustainability of the ACE Impact Centres, challenges limiting research commercialization and experiences on how university leadership changes affected the continuity of the ACE impact Centres.

Are there national policies that don’t support the sustainability of the ACE Impact Centres?

The national policies that don’t support the sustainability of ACE impact Centres were said to include the Tuition Fees Policy which restricts public universities from charging competitive fees to support the running of quality MSc and PhD programs. The audience agreed that a commercial mindset would be helpful towards developing effective strategies for sustaining the ACE Impact Centres through the establishment of incubation centres, commercialization of research outputs and strengthening the relationships with industry players.

What are the challenges limiting commercialization of research outputs?

Barriers hindering universities from commercializing their research findings were identified as challenges in locating partners interested in specific patents, unfavourable legal regulations, and a lack of readiness among stakeholders to embrace the proposed products or inventions. Reliance on outside solutions, poorly developed university technology transfer centers, and weak connections with industry also limit commercialization of research outputs.

The participants recommended establishing university technology transfer offices as limited liability companies and staffing them with a diverse range of expertise to enhance their ability to effectively assist the universities. Further, governments could enforce enabling policies for productive sectors to partner with research centers and universities.

Do the changes in university leadership threaten the sustainability of the ACE Impact Centres?

Three Centre leaders testified that changes in the leadership of their universities had not affected the smooth running of the ACE Impact projects. The factors contributing to this seamless continuity included the formalization and documentation of associated agreements, the integration of Centre staff into the university’s main administration, and the outstanding performance of these Centres, which effectively demonstrated their ongoing viability and sustainability.  The participants advised that the Centre leaders should maintain transparency, engage with the broader university community, showcase the value of the Centre, and foster a collaborative team approach, rather than working as individuals. To sustain the ACE Impact centers, the academic and research programs should be highly appealing, the Centres need to prioritize establishing endowment funds, and ensure strong commitment and ownership from both the host institutions and the government authorities. It is imperative that the ACE Impact Project has a lasting and significant impact, by ensuring that the investments made continue to benefit the African higher education stakeholders well beyond the project’s conclusion.

ACE Impact achieves high aggregate performance – Nimble Evaluation Report

The Africa Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project has achieved notable figures (results), according to an independent evaluation, and is on track to exceeding the project’s overall objectives. Despite many challenges impacting its implementation, including the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the project has produced innovative and groundbreaking research, maintained large scale enrollment, driven capacity building and more, becoming a model example for host universities, as well as the entire Africa higher education ecosystem. 

The independent nimble evaluation report findings were presented by Mr. Jamil Salmi, an education economist, on Tuesday, 31st October 2023 during the ongoing ACE Impact 10th regional workshop at Latrille Events, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. Mr. Salmi described the project as a ‘transformative program’ and ‘driver of change’ in the education sector. The report highlighted the overall significant progress and impact recorded by the project, especially in academic quality, sectorial engagement, regional networks, gender equity, and digitalization. The report sampled four ACE-participating countries—two anglophone (Ghana and Nigeria) and two francophone (Cote d’Ivoire and Niger)—for the independent rapid assessment, assessing program documentation, databases, interviews of country and centre team leaders for the entire ACE program series, encompassing ACE I, ACE II, and ACE Impact. 

As ACE Impact ends in June 2025, one major talking point raised in recent stakeholder engagements has been the project’s beyond-funding sustainability. It also emerged from the report that while some of the studied centres have weaned themselves off project funding and attained a sustainability status, having developed capacity for revenue generation for themselves as well as their host universities, other centers are working towards achieving the same effect. 

For these centers to be able to efficiently implement their long-term sustainability strategies and consolidate their gains, would depend not only on the centers themselves, but also their host universities, countries, and funders. Thus, while centers were encouraged to scale up resource diversification efforts focusing on continuing education and technology transfer, their host institutions were also incentivized to prioritize centers as part of the institutions’ research strategies, coordinate academic staff and administrative positions, and allocate budgetary resources to centers on a structural basis, such as scholarships for regional students. On their parts, Central governments and donor communities were respectively urged to adequately fund host institutions and centers and align with the universities’ long-term strategic plans. 

Standing tall as a story of success in the Africa higher education and scientific ecosystem, the ACE Impact project is jointly funded by World Bank Group and French Development Agency (AFD) and coordinated by the Association of African Universities (AAU).  

By consolidating their educational progress and capacity building successes whilst leveraging each other’s strengths and opportunities through collaborations, partnerships, and networking, centers are in a convenient position to individually and collectively contribute to the ACE project’s aim of enhanced quality and quantity of postgraduate education in Africa. 

Discussions of the nimble evaluation session of the 10th regional workshop were moderated by World Bank Senior Education Specialist and ACE Impact Core Team Leader, Dr Ekua Bentil. 

ACE Impact at 10 Celebrations Officially Launched in Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire

Representatives from the World Bank Group, the French Development Agency, the Association of African Universities, and the Ministry of Higher Education of Cote d’Ivoire have formally launched the ACE Impact at 10 (ACE@10) celebrations.

This pivotal launch event took place at the Latrille Events, Abidjan, as part of the official opening of the 10th Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development (ACE Impact) Regional workshop, currently underway in Cote d’Ivoire – from October 31 – November 3, 2023.

Guided by the theme ‘A Decade of Advancing Postgraduate Education Excellence in Africa’, the celebrations will spotlight the enormous impact and key achievements realised under the ACE Impact project, while positioning and mapping out its future of endless possibilities for transforming Africa’s higher education landscape.

Dr. Ekua Bentil, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank Group provided an insightful overview of the Africa Centres of Excellence Project. She stated that for nearly a decade, the World Bank has invested over $650 million in Sub-Saharan Africa through the ACE Program to enhance the quality of higher education to solve developmental challenges in the region. Dr. Bentil took participants down memory lane to 2012 when the World Bank, in consultation with African governments, recognised the need to support the strengthening of various universities and their teams to drive Africa’s transformation and champion development within the sub-region.

The engagements and partnership led to the launching of ACE I in the year 2014, which featured 22 centres from nine countries in west and central Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.  ACE II followed in 2016, supporting 24 centres in eight countries in Southern and Eastern Africa, specifically, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Following the significant successes achieved by the two phases of the project, the World Bank Group and the French Development Agency (AFD), in collaboration with African governments, launched the ACE Impact Project in 2018, to strengthen post-graduate training and applied research in existing fields, whilst supporting the development of new fields essential for Africa’s economic growth. ACE Impact is being implemented in 11 countries, with 53 centres, including 18 renewed from ACE I. Aside from the funding by the World Bank, Dr. Bentil highlighted the financial support provided by the French Development Agency (AFD), including €72 million to support Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, under ACE Impact.  The AFD has also contributed an additional €6 million to support the ACE Partner Project, an initiative aimed at promoting the influence and collaboration of thematic research networks between African Centres of Excellence, key actors in quality education and research, mobilised around national and regional developmental issues.

Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, Senior Program Manager of ACE Impact at AAU, outlined the plans for the celebrations. These include the generation of articles documenting the project’s key achievements over the 10-year period, profiling innovations and research breakthroughs, highlighting students’ research and alumni impact, and producing documentaries on the project’s journey, among others. The pinnacle of the celebrations will be a project-level celebration event scheduled to take place in Ghana in 2024.

Country teams were encouraged to make plans to mark the ACE@10 celebrations at the local level and to spotlight the tremendous achievements of the project. Groundbreaking and lifesaving research have been consistently produced by these centres of excellence, on many occasions when Africa and the world have faced global pandemics and crisis. The development of innovative solutions and nurturing of high-level human capacity have remained at the forefront of the project and will continue to be key focus of African universities in the years to come.

Cote d’Ivoire Welcomes Africa’s Higher Education Stakeholders to the Landmark 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshop

Over 400 delegates from 23 countries have convened in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for the 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, marking a critical milestone in the project’s pursuit of advancing higher education excellence in Africa. The workshop, taking place from October 31st to November 3rd, 2023, has brought together vice-chancellors, project teams, subject matter experts, government representatives from various African countries, policy think tanks and other stakeholders. High-level government officials from Cote d’Ivoire graced the workshop with their presence at the opening ceremony.  The central theme of sustainability is at the forefront of discussions as the project progresses towards its culmination in 2025.

Co-organised by the French Development Agency (AFD), the World Bank Group, and the Association of African Universities, in collaboration with the Ivorian Ministry of Higher Education, the workshop’s hybrid format combines virtual and onsite activities. The opening and closing ceremonies are being held at the Latrille Events, whiles other key workshop activities, including plenary, parallel sessions and steering committee and experts’ meetings, will be held from November 1st –2nd, 2023 at the Noom and Movenpick Hotels concurrently. The opening ceremony witnessed a compelling address by Mrs. Marie-Chantal Uwanyilligira, the World Bank Country Director for Cote d’Ivoire, who highlighted the critical role of Africa’s youth population. She underscored the projection that by 2050, Africa’s population will reach close to 2.5 billion, representing 35% of the world’s population and having the largest share of youth globally.  The heightened need to leverage the opportunities presented and change the ‘youthquake’ into an opportunity was said to be critical. ‘Timely, deliberate and purposive actions must be taken now to harness this demographic advantage effectively’ – said Mrs. Marie-Chantal.

Already, numerous successes of Africans solving Africa’s developmental challenges through innovations exist, as evidenced by the ACE Impact project, demonstrating that indeed, ‘Africa can’. The data demonstrates the remarkable strides the centres of excellence have made in addressing the continent’s most pressing needs and continue to do so in impactful ways.  Since 2014, Centres have trained 71, 987 students, published 8,528 research articles, and raised USD 170 million of externally generated funds. They now host over 116 internationally accredited programmes.

Education, research, and innovation were said to be pivotal in attaining a SMART economy and therefore needed to be prioritised and placed at the core of capitalising Africa’s demographic transition. Mrs. Marie-Chantal indicated that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is positively correlated with levels of education, STEM education and scientific output, thereby investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and the encouragement of girls to take up studies and careers in the STEM fields needed to be promoted to boost country GDP.   Moreover, it was added that the ACE Impact project goes beyond training and graduating students, to innovating and driving solutions to Africa’s challenges. Stakeholders were invited to partner with the project teams and join in transforming Africa.

The workshop was officially opened by Prof. Arsène Kobéa, the Director of Cabinet of the Minister of Higher Education, who reiterated the numerous benefits of investing in human capital. He emphasised the need to strengthen collaboration between governments and academic institutions to overcome key challenges faced by their economies.  Prof. Kobéa called on African countries to promote sustainability and ensure that the various phases of the project, continue to drive innovation and economic growth.  Commending the efforts of the ACE Impact project’s facilitators and funders, he urged all stakeholders to contribute synergistically to building a stronger and more resilient continent.

Prof. Olusola Bandele Oyewole, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities, underscored the importance of project sustainability, and encouraged robust collaboration and partnerships. He acknowledged the Ministry of Higher Education in Cote d’Ivoire for its pivotal role in hosting the workshop and recognised the unwavering commitment of government representatives, subject matter experts, the World Bank Group, AFD, AAU, and the 53 participating centers.

Highlighting the significance of the workshop, Prof Oyewole emphasised that “the workshop serves as a vital platform to assess the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence project’s progress while providing the avenue for the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and innovations. The project’s collaborative spirit and innovation have had a profound impact, not only on academia but also on Africa’s socioeconomic and technological evolution”.

Prof. Oyewole encouraged participants to form robust collaborations and strategic partnerships with industry, governments, and international organizations, to leverage existing resources and expertise, citing that the trajectory of higher education and its role in sustainable development hinges upon the combined efforts of all stakeholders. The Association of African Universities’ commitment to supporting the various key components of ACE Impact and the common goal of advancing higher education in Africa was reaffirmed. He also encouraged the pursuit of funding opportunities from diverse sources to sustain and expand the programme beyond the World Bank and AFD funding.

Representing the French Development Agency, (AFD), Mr. Lionel Yondo, the Regional Director for Gulf of Guinea, urged stakeholders to harness Africa’s geographical dividends and the various opportunities.  He highlighted the transformative role of the 53 centres in achieving tangible results across various thematic areas. Emphasizing the achievements of the centres in the areas of scientific publications in high-impact journals, number of PhDs trained, attraction of externally generated funds, among others.  Mr. Yondo stressed the need for close collaboration with governments and the effective leverage and use of stable resources.

The workshop came to a close with the official launch of the 10-year Anniversary of the ACE Impact project (ACE@10), which will be celebrated in 2024 to mark a decade of remarkable achievements and contributions to Africa’s development.

PRESS RELEASE – 10th ACE Impact Workshop: Sustaining Progress and Celebrating a Decade of Change

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release

 

10th ACE Impact Workshop: Sustaining Progress and Celebrating a Decade of Change

Accra, Ghana (23rd October 2023) – The Africa Higher Education Centre of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project is set to hold its 10th bi-annual regional workshop in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, from Tuesday, 31 October to Friday, 3 November 2023.

The workshop is being organized with sustainability as its primary theme. This theme holds particular significance due to the recent grant of a no-cost extension, extending the project’s timeline until 2025. This extension period offers an opportunity to operationalize the project’s sustainability plans. Additionally, a crucial highlight of this event will be a dedicated session during which the findings of an impact assessment report for the project will be presented.

In addition, the four-day event will provide a platform to:  discuss best practices and implementation plans for the financial and operational sustainability of the project; and provide implementation support to enhance project efficiency and address technical challenges hindering successful project execution.

The Opening ceremony and launch of the ACE @ 10 celebrations will be held on October 31, 2023 (8:00 GMT) at the Latrille Events Center. Hybrid workshop activities (virtual and onsite), including plenary and parallel sessions and steering committee and experts’ meetings, will be held from November 1-2, 2023 at the Noom and Movenpick Hotels concurrently. The closing ceremony is scheduled for November 3, 2023 at the Latrille Events Center.

The 10th regional ACE workshop is co-organised by the French Development Agency (AFD), the World Bank, and the Association of African Universities, in collaboration with the Ivorian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

The workshop cultivates a space for exchanging knowledge and building networks amongst the centers and relevant agencies by bringing together over 400 higher education stakeholders, including vice-chancellors, project team members, subject matter experts, government representatives, and policy think tanks. The workshop offers in-person collaborative opportunities, fostering the exchange of regional insights and learnings. Participants receive essential tools and guidelines for efficient project implementation, promoting long-term sustainability.

As part of the regional workshop, the 10th anniversary of the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence series of projects (ACEA10) will be launched- celebrating a decade of empowering higher education and fostering innovation across the African continent. “The ACE projects have been a transformative force over the past decade in the tertiary education sector, specifically, training the next generation of Africa’s STEM workforce and fostering cutting-edge research. The projects have made significant strides in addressing Africa’s critical development challenges while tackling brain drain.  Since its inception in 2014, the projects have supported over 80 centres, in more than 50 universities, across 20 African nations. As we celebrate ACE@10, it’s evident that its contributions enrich Africa’s academic landscape, enhancing the global competitiveness of African higher education and research to build a more prosperous Africa.” Scherezad Latif, World Bank Practice Manager for Education, Western and Central Africa

The launch will also highlight activities to be rolled out towards the celebrations in 2024. “ACE@10 activities will mark a decade of excellence, collaboration, and transformative impact in African higher education. The ACE @ 10 activities would amplify the project’s impact in African higher education and its crucial role in shaping a prosperous future for Africa.” AAU Secretary-General, Prof. Olusola Oyewole.

The ACE @ 10 will provide concrete solutions tailored to African development contexts and generated by African research, that can be promoted and disseminated widely” AFD Head of Education, Virginie Delisée-Pizzo.

Prior to the workshop virtual national-level roundtable implementation support meetings will take place from October 16- 23, 2023.

The media are invited to cover the opening ceremony and launch of the ACE @ 10 celebrations.

Media personnel can register here

 

For further clarification, contact:

Ministry of Higher Education, Cote d’Ivoire: Mme Yelly TOURE (mt_yelly@yahoo.fr )

The World Bank: Harry Gerard Crimi Jr (hcrimijr@worldbank.org )

The Association of African Universities: Millicent Afriyie Adjei (makyei@aau.org )

 

 

ABOUT THE ACE PROJECT

Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE) is a World Bank/AFD-funded programme, in collaboration with the governments of participating countries to support African higher education institutions to specialize in strategic thematic areas with the aim of promoting sustainable growth and development in Africa.

Initiated by World Bank, the first phase of the ACE programme (ACE I) was launched in 2014 with 22 centers in nine West and Central African countries, and the second phase (ACE II) in 2016 with 24 centers in East and Southern Africa. These two initial phases of the ACE programme succeeded in building and strengthening the capacities of African higher education institutions to deliver high-quality training and applied research and enhance skills demand for Africa’s development.

Based on these successes, World Bank, together with AFD, launched the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project in 2019 with 53 centers in 35 universities in 10 West African countries and Djibouti to further strengthen post-graduate training and applied research in existing fields and support new fields that are essential for Africa’s economic growth.

Under the ACE Impact project, these 53 centers are specializing in the broad thematic areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); agriculture, health, environment, social science/applied science, and education, which have been identified as essential ingredients to Africa development.

Learn more about the ACE Impact project at https://ace.aau.org

 

 

ABOUT THE ORGANISERS

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Cote d’Ivoire: Founded in 2011, the Ivorian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is a government ministry for overseeing, accrediting, and regulating higher education and promoting scientific research and innovation in Cote d’Ivoire. The ministry exists to formulate policies and develop strategies that promote access to and improve the quality of higher education and research in Cote d’Ivoire, aimed to address the country’s higher education challenges. It also provides technical training and professional development opportunities to both teaching and non-teaching staff. To help achieve its mandate, the ministry also collaborates with international organizations and institutions to facilitate research partnerships and exchange programmes.

The World Bank Group: The World Bank Group is a multilateral development institution that works to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity. The Bank, through its subsidiary International Development Association (IDA) co-finances the ACE Impact project. IDA, established in 1960, helps the world’s least-privileged countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programmes that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve the quality of life. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 74 least-privileged countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.3 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, World Bank through IDA has provided some 500 billion dollars to over 114

Association of African Universities (AAU): The Association of African Universities is an international non-profit, non-governmental network of almost 450 African universities, which have come together to promote cooperation among them, on the one hand, and between them and the international academic community, on the other. Established in 1967 and operating as the voice of higher education in Africa, the AAU aims to improve the quality of African higher education and strengthen its contribution to Africa’s development by supporting the core functions of higher education institutions and facilitating critical reflections and consensus-building on issues affecting these institutions. The AAU is the regional facilitation unit for the ACE Impact project.

French Development Agency (AFD): For more than 75 years, the French Development Agency has been fighting global poverty supporting policies and investments that benefit the least-privileged populations in the world. Strengthening the social link among individuals, groups, and territories is at the heart of its actions in education, health, employment, urban planning, climate, and biodiversity. L’Agence Française de Développement is the ACE Impact project co-financier.

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