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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Feedback from the Regional Facilitating Units – AAU and IUCEA 

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

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

 

Summary and Conclusions 

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

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

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

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

The Regional Facilitating Units for the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE) projects – the Association of African Universities (AAU), and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA)—in collaboration with the World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD), and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), convened over 400 higher education stakeholders for the maiden ACE International Partnership Workshop. This high-level event was hosted at the Intercontinental Mauritius Resort, Balaclava Fort in Mauritius, from May 8-10, 2024 and featured prominent government officials from Europe and Africa, representatives from the private sector, university leaders (Vice Chancellors), ACE academics from host institutions, and experts from policy think tanks and development partner organisations. Since 2014, the ACE Program has provided support to over 80 centres within 50 universities across 20 African nations. Its aim is to cultivate and provide top-tier postgraduate education while fostering applied research in crucial sectors such as health, agriculture, ICT, water, transport, energy, education, sustainable mining, environment, and engineering. These ACEs have been pivotal in tackling a range of challenges, including Ebola, Covid-19, sickle cell anemia, maternal and child health-related complications, digital technologies related challenges, food insecurity, and climate crisis.  

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

Overview of the Panel Discussion 

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

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

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

Key Innovations in STEM & Education Research 

African Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and ICT, Senegal 

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

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

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

NSF CREST Centre for Energy & Environmental Sustainability, USA 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning, Nigeria 

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

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

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

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

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

ISINNOVA Institute on Research, Innovation, and Sustainability, Italy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnership and Collaboration Strategies 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panel session deliberations 

Overview of the ACE Program 

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

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

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

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

Contributions from the panelists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moderated Q&A session  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of Research and Collaboration 

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

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

Challenges and Key Takeaways 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panel Discussion 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Moderated Q&A session  

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Remarks by Moderator 

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

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

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

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

 

Short Biographical Information

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Forging Global Alliances – Inaugural Africa Centers of Excellence International Partnership Workshop Currently Underway in Mauritius, May 8-10, 2024

Close to 400 higher education stakeholders from Africa, Europe and other continents have gathered at the Intercontinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort, for the maiden Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) International Partnership Workshop. Holding from May 8-10, 2024, on the theme- Building Pathways Towards Sustainability through Collaborative Research and Innovation, the workshop marks a significant milestone, creating the needed platform for the forging of new partnerships, reinforcement of existing ones, interaction with the private sector, and deepening of strategies aimed at strengthening the sustainability of the ACE initiative.  

The workshop is a culmination of the strategic collaboration between the Association of African Universities (AAU), the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), The World Bank, French Development Agency (AFD), and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD). Other key partners include the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU).  

In alignment with the AU-EU Innovation Agenda, adopted in July 2023, the Africa Centers of Excellence International Partnerships Workshop is creating the platform to amplify research and innovation cooperation between Africa and other continents. With a view to creating multifaceted alliances and promoting the joint interests of the participating institutions, the workshop’s programme is carefully crafted to include engaging and insightful panel discussions, pitching sessions with industry players, and parallel thematic sessions, among others.  

Addressing the high-level delegation at the workshop, the Secretary General of the AAU, Professor Olusola Oyewole praised the many successes achieved under the ACE program which has driven growth and contributed to the transformation of Africa’s higher education sector.  He called on development partners, industry, governments and other key players to catalyse and increase investments in the ACE model and various key initiatives, to advance higher education in Africa to generate the critical mass of human resource required to champion the targets of key blueprints such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the global sustainable goals, and the continental education strategy for Africa. 

Prof. Olusola Oyewole addressing the audience
Prof. Olusola Oyewole addressing the audience

He reiterated the Association of African Universities’ commitment to work jointly with the various higher education stakeholders and institutions to lead this transformation. Prof. Oyewole said, that the AAU operates a values-based approach, underpinned by transparency, accountability, adaptability and good governance and that it was no coincidence that the Association has been the partner of choice for the World Bank and other partners for the first phase of the Africa Centres of Excellence Project and again for the third phase – ACE Impact. 

With a membership of over 400 higher education institutions across the continent and serving as the regional facilitation unit for the ACE Impact project, we are proud of what we have achieved so far, together with our 54 centres from 11 countries and all our partners.  On this journey, we have recorded over 29,000 students being enrolled in PhD and MSC programmes,  over 79 million externally generated funds, and close to 3000 publications in high impact journals” – he added.  

For his part, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, Prof. Gaspard Banyankimbona, recognized the government of Mauritius for hosting the event, and paid a glowing tribute to the World Bank team, represented by the regional director, human development – Dr. Daniel Dulitzky, for their enabling financial and technical support to the ACE programme. Prof.  Banyankimbona highlighted the role of the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), as being an intergovernmental institution of the East Africa Community mandated to advise, develop and coordinate all matters related to higher education and research in the EAC. In line with this, IUCEA facilitates networking among universities in EAC member states, and with universities outside the region, provide a forum for discussion on a wide range of academic and other matters relating to higher education in east Africa, while facilitating maintenance of internationally comparable education standards to promote the region’s global competitiveness in higher education. Zooming in on its achievement as the regional facilitation unit for the ACE II project, he intimated that the project has recorded tremendous achievement with over 20,000 beneficiaries including Faculty, Masters and PhD graduates, and a total amount of close to 44 million USD raised in externally generated funds. He wrapped up his delivery by assuring the project teams and stakeholders of the IUCEA’s commitment to ensure the project attains its intended development objectives.   

Image of Prof. Gaspard Banyankimbona addressing the audience
Prof. Gaspard Banyankimbona addressing the audience

Research as a Strategic Tool for Africa’s Economic Transformation 

Mr. Hans Stausboll, the Director for Africa at the European Commission’s Directorate for International Partnership, articulated the pivotal role of research in societal and economic transformation. Emphasizing the European Union’s commitment to fostering science, technology, and innovation, he highlighted the significance of initiatives like the “African Research Initiative for Scientific Excellence” (ARISE) program. Under the guidance of the EU and AU, ARISE aims to unlock Africa’s innovation potential by supporting the next generation of scientific leaders. Mr. Stausboll stressed the EU’s focus on enhancing knowledge infrastructure and empowering practitioners to build a critical mass of role models for African researchers. He underscored the importance of aligning EU and AU initiatives to maximize impact and assured the African higher education community of the EU’s readiness to collaborate for global advancement. 

Mr. Mathieu Thenaise, the Deputy Director for Mauritius, Agence Française de Développement (AFD) reiterated the institution’s belief in the pivotal role that the Centres of Excellence play in driving social and economic development.  He emphasized the imperative of these centers in nurturing a cadre of skilled professionals capable of spearheading transformative change and called for collective action to confront the myriad challenges facing higher education, particularly within the context of programmes like the African Centers of Excellence (ACE), including the crucial issue of sustainability. 

For the AFD, investing in the development of competent professionals equipped to lead Africa into a prosperous future is not just a priority but a necessity. Recognizing the interconnectedness of global development, Mr. Thenaise underscored the significance of nurturing talent that can contribute meaningfully to the continent and to the broader international community.  

Breaking new ground in Africa’s higher education through the Africa Centers of Excellence Project  

Dr. Daniel Dulitzky, the regional director for human development at the World Bank, indicated that the ACE initiative transcends traditional academic boundaries, embodying a beacon of hope and a blueprint for change. At its core is a proactive engagement with the private sector, marking a departure from conventional academia. He said, by involving industry leaders and investors in the research and innovation process, the project aims to identify opportunities for commercialization and foster partnerships to bring research outcomes to the market. He indicated that the project’s focus on key areas such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), agriculture, health, environment, and education highlights its commitment to maximizing impact across borders and sectors.  

He underscored the ACE programme’s creation of a network of expertise and facilitation of knowledge sharing to encourage the development of innovative solutions and technologies that have commercial potential. Concluding his delivery, he mentioned that as the private sector plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between theory and practice, academia and industry, the ACE programme paves the way for a future where knowledge translates into real-world solutions, driving tangible impact and transformation across the African continent. 

The three-day Africa Centers of Excellence International Partnership Workshop underscores the collective commitment of all the stakeholders, from Africa, Europe and beyond to prioritise strategic partnerships to advance research and innovation on a global scale and drive transformative change for the benefit of societies worldwide.

CEA MS4SSA and UNHCR Forge Strategic Partnership to Empower Nigerian Refugees in Niger

In a concerted effort to bolster inclusive higher education in Africa, the Emerging Center for Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science in sub-Saharan Africa (CEA MS4SSA) has joined forces with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to enhance the educational prospects of Nigerian refugees in the city of Diffa, Niger.

With funding support from the World Bank Group, French Development Agency, and governments of the 11 participating countries, and with implementation support from the Association of African Universities (AAU), the ACE Impact project, is designed to strengthen the capacities of participating universities to deliver high-quality training and research. ACE Impact aims to address specific regional development challenges, with CEA MS4SSA focusing on improving mathematics and science education in sub-Saharan Africa.

More specifically, the partnership between CEA MS4SSA and the UNHCR is a direct response to the long-standing challenge of extremely low refugee enrollment in higher education institutions in Africa. According to a UNHCR report published in 2023, only one out of 10 global refugees who have attained the university-going age range of between 18 and 24 years, get access to higher education. The report further attributes the worrying situation of refugees’ limited access to higher education partly to the general perennial problem of inadequate space in higher education institutions in Africa. Additionally, several inherent factors, including the lack of academic certification for admission into higher education institutions and the low numbers of graduating secondary school refugee students all impede refugees’ access to higher education. To tackle this challenge, the collaboration between CEA MS4SSA and UNHCR has initiated short-term vocational training programmes, as an alternative educational pathway of building the knowledge and skills of the teeming refugee population to become competitive in their quest to access higher education and in the rapidly evolving landscape of the 21st-century job market.

On its part under the partnership agreement, CEA MS4SSA trained and certified Nigerian refugee teachers in practical laboratory experiments in physics, chemistry, and life and earth sciences, covering the trainers’ living expenses.

Some Nigerian refugee participants of the CEA MS4SSA-UNHCR training undergoing practical sessions
Some Nigerian refugee participants of the CEA MS4SSA-UNHCR training undergoing practical sessions

The UNHCR, on the other hand, bore the transportation and accommodation costs of trainers outsourced from Niamey as well as provided training kits, among others, to facilitate the training sessions. These training sessions have equipped refugee teachers to deliver practical science education to secondary school students, enhancing their preparation for further studies and academic success.

The CEA MS4SSA and UNHCR partnership also set up examination centers close to refugee students living with their parents in the Diffa region to ensure they successfully take their end-of-year and other relevant examinations under acceptable conditions and enhance their chances of success. The training sessions, which encompassed the physical, life, and earth science areas, generally gave participants insights into how to set up and carry out practical experiments using conventional equipment, how to use digital and analogue measuring equipment and interpret the results of experiments, and how to design and make contextualized teaching materials from available local materials.

Some participants of the CEA MS4SSA-UNHCR training
Some participants of the CEA MS4SSA-UNHCR training

The immediate outcome of this thoughtful and timely intervention is evidenced in the record 73.29% pass rate the refugee students chalked in their Science Baccalaureate exam, which is equivalent to the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) in the Nigerian educational system. By arming refugee students with valuable knowledge and skills, this initiative not only improves their prospects for higher education but also empowers them to contribute meaningfully to their communities. Looking ahead, expanding the scope of training programs and forging additional partnerships are essential for sustaining and scaling these efforts, ensuring greater integration of refugees into the African higher education landscape and reducing their susceptibility to joining extremist groups.

As the ACE Impact project approaches its conclusion in June 2025, CEA MS4SSA remains committed to exploring future opportunities for collaboration within the higher education sector. By continuing to promote educational inclusion and excellence, CEA MS4SSA aims to positively impact the lives of refugees and foster a brighter future for all.

Impacting Refugee Lives: A Focus on CEFTER’s Transformative Efforts in Food Technology Education in Nigeria

The global refugee population, reported by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at 36.4 million, primarily resides in low- and middle-income countries, including Africa. Despite their significant presence, access to higher education for refugee youth remains severely limited. UNHCR data indicates that only 7% of refugee youth globally are enrolled in higher education, with even lower enrollment rates in sub-Saharan Africa, while according to UNESCO’s findings, only 1% of refugee students worldwide have access to scholarships for higher education. These stark figures underscore the urgent need to address the systemic barriers hindering refugee education across the continent.

Against this background, the Center for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER) emerges as the beacon of hope, implementing life-changing interventions to transform the lives of refugees.  Hosted by the Benue State University, Makurdi, Nigeria, under the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project, CEFTER is addressing the challenges associated with refugee education and making a substantial difference in the lives of refugee students.

Aligned with the ACE Impact project’s target of strengthening the capacity of the 53 participating centres to address regional challenges, and deliver quality training and applied research, CEFTER identified a key challenge based on its geographical location and proximity to Cameroon. This revolves around the lack of higher education access for Cameroonian refugees who seek asylum in Nigeria. Since 2016, CEFTER has been actively spearheading initiatives to tackle this obstacle and make a tangible difference in the lives of Cameroonian refugee students.

CEFTER’s Trailblazing Interventions in Supporting Refugee Education

Established in 2014 to address the challenges of post-harvest losses of food crops in the West and Central Africa sub-region, CEFTER has been promoting teaching, research, and extension in post-harvest sciences. This Centre of Excellence focuses on enhancing agricultural production and promoting the exposure of its students to industrial processing of food and food product development.   The primary thematic disciplines of CEFTER include the control of post-harvest food losses, physiology and management, food science, preservation and processing technologies and the socio-economic aspect of food research and technology.

With a huge influx of asylum seekers from Cameroon crossing over to Nigeria, issues around food access, food safety, nutrition safety and general health and safety were identified as critical by CEFTER as part of its needs assessment of the refugee population in Nigeria. The UNHCR’s registry of Asylum Seekers in Nigeria put the official figure of registered Asylum Seekers from Cameroon at 20,485 in 2018, with the 2023 data reporting an estimated figure of about 87, 000.

The Center for Food Technology and Research strategically intervened in the identified issues related to food, by taking its short-courses program, already being run across the country, to the refugee population to ensure their overall wellbeing.  Short courses related to food handling, food safety, food processing and packaging to promote the reduction of losses and safe handling of food were offered to this group.

Some certified participants of CEFTER’s short-term courses in food research and technology
Some certified participants of CEFTER’s short-term courses in food research and technology

Prof. Barnabas Achakpa Ikyo, the Centre leader for CEFTER reports that a total of 480 registered refugees have been trained by CEFTER and issued with certificates of competency in the respective capacity building areas. In certain instances, participants have been equipped with start-up machinery and essential raw materials to alleviate financial obstacles associated with start-up capital and to facilitate the launch of their food processing businesses immediately after the training.

 

Enhanced Refugee Employability through Skills Training

The skills training initiatives by CEFTER has significantly bolstered the employability of the refugees within the culinary industry and other food-focused sectors, making them economically independent, and empowering them to rebuild their lives. Moreover, several beneficiaries have successfully established their own enterprises, specializing in the processing and sale of various food products, thereby actively contributing to the local economy. Notably, the training programs on food processing have yielded remarkable outcomes in minimizing food losses and wastage, leveraging the abundant raw materials such as cassava and plantain available in farming communities, within which the refugee camps are located. These training sessions, led by a team of specialized experts and high-level delegates from CEFTER, including the center’s leadership team, continue to be tailored to address evolving needs. For instance, amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the center swiftly responded by equipping a cohort of refugees with skills in producing high-demand products like hand sanitizers.

 

Alumni Impact: CEFTER Empowers Refugee Futures Through MSC and PHD Degrees

Mrs. Agbor Evelyn Agbor, an MSC (Food Processing) graduate of CEFTER is a shining example of the impact these capacity building initiatives have had on the pathway to refugee self-sufficiency.  Her food processing company, AKA FOODs, in Cameroon and Nigeria has not only offered her a job and a source of income, but employed other youths. “I also regularly hold seminars to train youth groups in the community on various issues – including food processing and packaging” – she said.  Mrs. Agbor is currently a PhD student at the Centre for Food Technology and Research, Nigeria.  Her trajectory underscores the profound impact of CEFTER’s degree programmes on refugee empowerment.

Mrs. Agbor Evelyn Agbor, an MSc Food Processing Graduate from CEFTER and Founder of AKA FOODs, a food processing company with presence in Cameroon and Nigeria
Mrs. Agbor Evelyn Agbor, an MSc Food Processing Graduate from CEFTER and Founder of AKA FOODs, a food processing company with presence in Cameroon and Nigeria

 

As one of several refugees excelling following their participation in degree programmes at CEFTER, Mrs. Agbor’s story reflects the broader commitment of the Centre to empower refugee youth through education. Talented youth from refugee communities were actively encouraged to pursue higher education opportunities offered by the Centre. Through competitive selection processes, 39 refugees from Cameroon have embarked on their academic journeys at CEFTER, with 34 pursuing MSC degrees (comprising 17 males and 17 females) and 5 undertaking PhD programs (including 3 males and 2 females). This commitment to empowering refugee youth through education underscores CEFTER’s dedication to fostering inclusive and impactful academic pathways.

Leveraging Strategic Partnerships in Empowering Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

CEFTER’s interventions in building the capacity of the refugees, have been possible through its continued engagement with various development partners to support its specialized interventions. Currently, its main sources of funding the refugee MSC and PhD students have been the ACE Impact Project – funded by the World Bank, AFD, and the Federal Government of Nigeria. The DAAD also acknowledged CEFTER’s unique model and offered scholarship to some students for a three-year duration.

Beyond the support to refugees from its neighboring country, CEFTER also partners to implement various strategic interventions to internally displaced persons, especially children.  Under this scheme, CEFTER offers products of its spin off factory, such as their soya milk yoghurt, cassava-based biscuits, and other nutrition dense foods to this group of people.

Overall Impact made by CEFTER on the Refugee Population in Nigeria

Through its targeted interventions and holistic approach to addressing the challenges faced by refugees, the Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER) has had a profound impact on both the refugee population and the communities in which they reside. By leveraging its expertise in post-harvest sciences and food technology, CEFTER has not only provided essential training and educational opportunities but has also catalyzed economic empowerment and improved public health outcomes.

CEFTER’s commitment to capacity building is exemplified by its robust Masters and PhD programs, which have provided advanced training and education to refugee students from Cameroon. By offering opportunities for higher education, CEFTER has empowered these individuals to acquire specialized skills and knowledge in food processing and technology, positioning them as leaders in their respective fields. The successful graduation of 39 refugees, including Mrs. Agbor Evelyn Agbor, demonstrates the transformative impact of such capacity-building initiatives in fostering self-sufficiency and socio-economic development.

One of the most significant achievements of CEFTER’s intervention has been the marked reduction in food poisoning cases within refugee camps. Through targeted training programs on food handling, safety, and processing techniques, CEFTER has equipped refugees with the necessary knowledge and skills to mitigate foodborne illnesses and ensure the safety of food supplies. This has not only improved the overall health and well-being of the refugee population but has also alleviated the burden on healthcare facilities and resources.

Key Challenges Faced by CEFTER and Recommendations to Deepen Its Support to Refugee Students

One of the primary challenges CEFTER faces is the difficulty in managing the unexpected high turnout of participants during training sessions. While the center, for instance, could plan for only 50 attendees, they often end up accommodating over 100 individuals, straining the available limited resources.  A lack of proper documentation for refugee students is another challenge the centre faces. This includes issues related to verifying their academic credentials, residency status, and eligibility for scholarships or educational programs, inhibiting their access to higher education opportunities. Moreover, funding initiatives aimed at supporting start-ups established by refugee beneficiaries pose a challenge due to limited financial resources. While CEFTER strives to empower refugees to establish their own businesses, securing adequate funding to sustain and scale these initiatives remains a persistent challenge.

Some participants of CEFTER’s low-level capacity-building training in food handling
Some participants of CEFTER’s low-level capacity-building training in food handling

 

To address the challenge of limited resources and capacity, CEFTER continues to prioritize building strategic partnerships with other organizations, governments, and philanthropic entities, as collaborative efforts are key in helping to sustain and expand the academic support provided to refugees.  ‘Institutions with aligned vision and willing to collaborate with us to deepen our support to the refugee community, are encouraged to get in touch with us to support scale up CEFTER’s intervention to this critical group’ – appealed Prof. Barnabas Achakpa Ikyo, the Centre leader for CEFTER.

Looking ahead, CEFTER aims to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to organize safe return and settlement programs for refugees who wish to return to their home countries voluntarily. These programs will offer support in reintegrating into their communities, accessing education and employment opportunities, and rebuilding their lives.

Again, CEFTER remains available to be engaged by other stakeholders to enhance and diversify the CEFTER model to cater to a broader range of needs within refugee communities. This could involve expanding the scope of training programs to include additional skill sets and areas of expertise relevant to refugee livelihoods and economic empowerment.

Most importantly, increased funding is essential to enable CEFTER to reach more refugee beneficiaries and expand its impact. The center therefore invites international donors, government agencies, and private sector partners to support educational initiatives, start-up ventures, and capacity-building programs for refugees.

Overall, the Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER) aims to continue to deepen its impact on the lives of refugee communities in Nigeria and beyond, through collaboration and sustained efforts.

World Bank, UNHCR, AAU deliberate to deepen support for refugee students through the ACE Impact project

In a joint effort to champion inclusivity, The World Bank Group, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Association of African Universities (AAU) have come together under the African Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project, to create the platform for Africa’s higher education stakeholders to discuss the enhancement of the sector’s support to refugee students.

A cross section of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria
A cross section of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria

 

The ACE Impact project, being spearheaded by the World Bank since 2019, operates in collaboration with the governments of 11 African countries. Implemented by the AAU, the project aims to empower African higher education institutions to specialize and enhance capacities in key academic fields—STEM, agriculture, environment, health, and education—identified as pivotal drivers of Africa’s development.

ACE Impact-UNHCR Webinar Participants
ACE Impact-UNHCR Webinar Participants

 

A pivotal moment in this endeavor unfolded during a webinar jointly convened by The World Bank, UNHCR, and AAU on Wednesday, February 7, 2024. The event, attended by over 80 participants from the ACE Impact community, underscored the urgent need to prioritize refugee education and inclusion in Africa’s higher education landscape.

Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, the Senior Programme Manager for the ACE Impact project, highlighted that this webinar aligns with the project’s proactive partnership drive, previously announced by The World Bank during the 10th ACE Impact stakeholders’ regional workshop in Cote d’Ivoire from October 30 to November 3, 2023. Guided by its objectives, the webinar provided the platform for: (1) Gaining insights into the distinctive capacity needs of refugee students (2) Exploring collaborative opportunities with the UNHCR (3) Learning from direct experiences of ACE Impact Centres that have hosted refugee students (4) Gaining insights from successful models and innovative practices to shape current and future initiatives and create a meaningful impact in the lives of refugee students.

In a compelling presentation, Frankie Randle, Higher Education Specialist at the UNHCR, provided a comprehensive global overview of higher education for refugees. Randle delved into the critical barriers impeding refugees’ access to higher education, shedding light on the perspectives and challenges faced by universities. Offering proactive solutions to address refugee challenges, the presentation also spotlighted inclusive practices implemented by several higher education institutions.

Mr. Randle’s statistics revealed a staggering 36.4 million individuals are currently displaced globally – surpassing the population of Ghana, the second most populous country in West Africa. Highlighting a critical demographic, he pointed out that approximately 13.31% of these refugees, totaling around 4.8 million, fall within the typical age range for university students, which is 18 to 24 years old. Furthermore, Mr. Randle underscored the significant burden on low- and middle-income countries, as a staggering 75% of the 36.4 million refugees, totaling 27.3 million, find refuge in these nations.

Mr. Frankie Randle, UNHCR’s Higher Education Specialist, addressing the webinar
Mr. Frankie Randle, UNHCR’s Higher Education Specialist, addressing the webinar

 

For the UNHCR, even though refugee higher education enrolment rate has since 2019 increased from 1% to 7%, it is still way below even the 42% average higher education enrolment of all youth globally. And thus, more needs to be done to raise the figures much higher. The UNHCR, supported by its research-based data, also presented about a dozen unfavorable factors that, according to it, come together to contribute to these low numbers of refugee enrolment.

Some of the barriers the UNHCR reported are: (1) Pressure on the youth refugees to contribute to household finances (2) Limited scholarship opportunities for refugees (3) Long distance to higher education institutions, compounded by refugees’ movement restrictions, in some cases (4) Limited financial stability for refugee families to fund higher education and (5) Higher international students’ fees. Others included (6) Refugees’ lack of academic certification required for admission in host countries (7) Lack of reliable power and connectivity for connected higher education programs (8) Low numbers of graduating secondary school refugee students, particularly girls and (9) Barriers that disproportionately affect female refugee enrolment.

Expanding on his insights, Mr. Randle clarified that the challenges mentioned earlier are just a fraction of the numerous obstacles that individuals, refugees and non-refugees alike, encounter while striving for higher education, whether within their home countries or abroad. Under a strategy dubbed “15 by 30,” participants were informed that the UNHCR is targeting to achieve a 15% refugee enrolment in global higher education by the year 2030. To achieve this, the refugee agency outlined its five-point strategy – “The 5 Pillars of Refugee Access to Higher Education –, namely (1) assisting refugee enrolment into national universities, (2) giving them relevant technical and vocational education and training, (3) giving them scholarships to study in third-party countries, (4) Working with many partners in many countries to bring higher education to refugees where ever they are hosted, through a Connected Higher Education program, and (5) providing bachelor-level scholarships to refugees, through the UNHCR Tertiary Scholarship program (DAFI), which has been running for over 30 years now.

To enhance its effort even further, the UNHCR highlighted that it will soon launch what it calls, Each One Take One. Under this initiative, the refugee agency has designed a plan to inspire, motivate, and incentivize tertiary education institutions to create at least one scholarship for one refugee.

During the webinar, the ACE Impact project took center stage with the dynamic representation of two pivotal centers among the 53 actively participating centres of the project. The Center for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER), based at Benue State University in Makurdi, Nigeria, and the African Center of Excellence for Innovative Teaching/Learning of Mathematics and the Sciences for sub-Saharan Africa (CEA-IEA-MS4SSA), hosted by Université Abdou Moumouni in Niger, showcased their approaches and significant contribution in supporting the refugees’ trainings.

The CEA-IEA-MS4SSA, as submitted by its leader, Prof. Saidou Madougou, hosts Nigerian refugees, following the disturbing activities of the Boko Haram insurgent group in Nigeria. According to Prof Madougou, the center has despite several challenges been deliberate about serving the interest of these Nigerian refugees to enable them to complete their programs of study, rather than indulge in nefarious activities now or in the future.

A practical laboratory session of the CEA MS4SSA-UNHCR training
A practical laboratory session of the CEA MS4SSA-UNHCR training

 

He disclosed the center also trains pre-tertiary refugees to use digital and analogical tools, for example, for measuring electrical current of bulbs. Prof Madougou said trainers from the center have been helping trainees in the refugee camps to use both conventional and non-conventional ways to undertake their experiments and organizes several training sessions per year to help the students prepare for various examinations, resulting in a 73.29% pass rate in their Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE), for example.

Again, in a cost-sharing approach, according to Prof Madougou, the center collaborated with the UNHCR to provide trainers to train refugees from Nigeria, achieving a number of results.

On his part, CEFTER leader, Prof. Barnabas Achakpa Ikyo, who described the engagement and possible partnership with the UNHCR as welcome news, shared key experiences in hosting refugee students and some of the centre’s outreach activities to the refugee camps. CEFTER is hosted by Benue State University in Benue State, Nigeria. According to 2023 UNHCR data presented by Prof. Ikyo, Benue State alone hosts about 10% (8,797) of the 87,000 refugees in Nigeria, owing to the State’s closeness to Cameroon, from where most of these refugees have fled.

Prof. Barnabas Achakpa Ikyo, Center Leader, Center for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER)
Prof. Barnabas Achakpa Ikyo, Center Leader, Center for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER)

 

As part of its activities geared towards refugees, the center has, since the beginning of its engagement in 2016, trained hundreds of refugees in their camps and certified some on basic nutrition, food safety, food processing, packaging, and value addition. CEFTER has even gone ahead to provide start-up capital and logistics to some entrepreneur refugees. Through this, not only has the center helped protect the raw food materials from going waste, but it has also helped improve the hygienic conditions of refugees’ setting and empowered them to obtain jobs in restaurants and set up businesses within the food value chain.

CEFTER’s achievements have not gone unnoticed, as the DAAD has acknowledged the center’s effective model and offered yearly funding for more beneficiaries in Africa for three years to study master’s and PhD programmes. So far, 39 refugees from Cameroon are enrolled in the center’s post graduate programmes. Out of the number, 34 of them (17 females and 17 males) are pursuing MSc programs, while 5 of them (2 females and 3 males) are pursuing PhD programs. The center has also trained 65 Cameroonians in short-term courses. A total of 489 refugees, comprising 339 females and 150 males, have undertaken CEFTER’s short courses.

Indeed, these results have been achieved not without challenges. One biggest challenge projected by the two centers during their presentations at the webinar is the lack of sufficient funding to sustain the great capacity building and academic support initiatives and the start-up funding for refugees to consolidate the gains made so far. It was thus suggested that centers foster sustainable partnerships that will ensure sustainable cashflows, expand the academic support to refugees, organize effective return programmes for refugees, and improve on the ACE model in general.

In the next phase of the initiative, Dr. Ekua Bentil, Senior Education Specialist and task team leader for ACE Impact at the World Bank, made a compelling appeal to the two centers. She urged them to contemplate expanding their support for refugees within their existing funding or to explore alternative avenues to bolster this commendable initiative.

Dr. Bentil shared with the audience that her team was actively looking into potential funding opportunities within The World Bank’s refugee window. This strategic move forms part of a dedicated effort to elevate the inclusion of refugees in Africa’s higher education landscape.

 

ACECoR (Ghana) inaugurates its multipurpose building, marking a significant milestone

In line with the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact’s (ACE Impact) goal of enhancing the quality and quantity of Africa’s postgraduate education, the Africa Center of Excellence in Coastal Resilience (ACECoR) has commissioned its ultra-modern, multi-purpose building complex.

This milestone signifies ACECoR’s accomplishment of a significant performance indicator (Disbursement Linked Indicator 4.3 – provision of enabling teaching and learning environment) within the ACE Impact project initiated by the World Bank. The building is designed to offer a congenial environment for faculty and students to continue producing cutting edge, research-based knowledge in coastal resilience and environmental sustainability.

During the inauguration, Mr. Sajid Anwar, an environmental specialist at the World Bank, acknowledged ACECoR’s contribution to the ACE Impact project and pledged the World Bank’s continuous support to elevate ACECoR to a globally acclaimed center of excellence. He highlighted ACECoR’s forward-thinking approach, especially in the context of developing sustainable and inclusive blue economies. “As we look into the future and beyond coastal resilience and recognize the growing importance of developing sustainable and inclusive blue economies, this is an area where I must admit that the great minds at ACECoR have a step ahead of the World Bank,” he said.

Mr Sajid Anwar, Environmental Specialist, The World Bank Group

Mr. Anwar added, “Through the West African Coastal Areas Management Programme (WACA), the World Bank is happy to support ACECoR with financing for the next five years as part of the WACA resilience investment project.”

Emphasizing sustainability, Mr. Anwar commended ACECoR’s efforts to address Ghana’s coastal and environmental challenges, recognizing the center as a home for future knowledge on coastal resilience. He highlighted ACECoR’s partnerships with the University of Tokyo in Japan and the Netherlands for innovative research on integrated settlement management and nature-based solutions in West Africa, aligning with the World Bank’s sustainability agenda.

Mrs. Eunice Ackwerh, World Bank Senior Education Specialist, highlighted ACECoR’s collaboration with NGOs in Ghana and the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Cape Coast as a key sustainability achievement.

Ms. Eunice Ackwerh, Senior Education Specialist, The World Bank Group
Ms. Eunice Ackwerh, Senior Education Specialist, The World Bank Group

The Association of African Universities (AAU) which is the Regional Facilitation Unit of the ACE Impact project represented by the Senior Project Manager, Dr Sylvia Mkandawire, underscored its commitment to ensuring an expansive and inclusive Africa higher education. Dr Mkandawire described the ACECoR building as a product of that commitment. “The AAU has been actively working with various universities and ACECoR’s building is a testament to the organization’s dedication to fostering academic excellence across the African continent.” she said.

Dr Sylvia Mkandawire, Senior Program Manager, ACE Impact Project, AAU
Dr Sylvia Mkandawire, Senior Program Manager, ACE Impact Project, AAU

Dr. Edmund Aalangdong, Head of Policy and Planning and Focal Point for the ACE Impact project at GTEC, affirmed GTEC’s unwavering commitment to continued collaboration with the AAU and World Bank. He assured them of GTEC’s persistent dedication to academic excellence and the pursuit of sustainable, impactful development in Africa. Dr. Aalangdong also highlighted GTEC’s preparedness to assist all Ghana centers, including ACECoR, underscoring the Commission’s commitment to offering continuous support for the center to attain additional milestones and celebrate further successes.

Dr. Edmund Aalangdong-Head of Policy and Planning ACE Impact Ghana National Facilitation Unit Ghana Tertiary Education Commission Accra

Dr. Edmund Aalangdong – Head of Policy and Planning ACE Impact Ghana National Facilitation Unit Ghana Tertiary Education Commission Accra

Also speaking at the ceremony was Prof. Johnson Nyarko Boampong, Vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, which hosts ACECoR. He underscored the critical role ACECoR plays in shaping the future of maritime research and conservation at the university. He thus described the project as having the potential to become a beacon of academic excellence to significantly contribute to the university’s global standing in sustainability research and conservation efforts.

On his part, ACECoR Director, Prof. Denis Worlanyo Aheto, expressed gratitude for the funding support from the World Bank, implementation support from the Association of African Universities (AAU), collaborative support from the Government of Ghana, and the UCC community’s unwavering support.

Mr Sajid Anwar (2nd from left), Mrs Eunice Ackwerh (2nd from right), Dr Sylvia Mkandawire (3rd from left), Prof. Aheto (right)
Mr Sajid Anwar (2nd from left), Mrs Eunice Ackwerh (2nd from right), Dr Sylvia Mkandawire (3rd from left), Prof. Aheto (right)

The building complex hosts sophisticated research facilities, well-ventilated lecture halls, a contemporary library, and a state-of-the-art scientific laboratory, addresses the office space deficit at UCC’s Center for Coastal Management.

Attendees at the event, who were privileged to tour the facility, admired the potential the building holds for fostering interdisciplinary research and nurturing the next generation of scholars and expressed optimism for a secure future of Africa’s coastal environment.

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