The ACE Programme hosted its maiden Africa Centres of Excellence International Partnership Workshop in May 2024 in Mauritius. A key event on the final day, May 10th, 2024, was a pivotal side meeting attended by nearly 40 university presidents hosting various Africa Centers of Excellence in the programme’s key thematic areas. The discussions, facilitated by Dr. Roberta Malee Bassett, Global Lead for Tertiary Education at The World Bank, underscored the critical importance of international and regional partnerships, examining both the challenges and potential benefits of these collaborations. 

Feedback from University Presidents 

To foster growth and development, it was highlighted that universities need exposure to diverse perspectives to achieve global relevance and cultural intelligence. Currently, internationalization remains a core focus for many African universities, with most establishing dedicated international offices. International partnerships, such as those with cluster universities in Belgium and agricultural programs with German universities, also emerged as being crucial as it provides students with world-class lab experiences and practical learning opportunities on farms. 

The university presidents indicated that long-term collaborations tend to be more effective, with a preference for two-way partnerships. While most current collaborations focus on student exchanges, there is a desire for more faculty involvement. It was indicated that meaningful partnerships should lead to local capacity building while acknowledging the existing skills within partner organizations.

Case Studies of Successful Collaborations

  • Harvard University Collaboration: Through a research growth collaboration with Havard University, one university indicated it has developed a strong team of researchers and changed the research culture in its medical school.
  • University of Benin: Some institutions such as the University of Benin in Nigeria mentioned benefiting from acquiring simulation labs through their partnership with Havard University. The University President said that this partnership had strengthened their research teams and empowered staff. The University of Benin wants to collaborate around equity / women empowerment and to be capacitated to tell their stories in terms of numbers. 
  • Haramaya University: The University President noted that most international partnerships in his institution were realized through the personal engagements of staff or through conference contacts. The University had since worked towards institutionalizing partnerships through the establishment of an international office and recruitment of a Fulbright fellow to manage it.
  • Leveraging Staff Connections/Networks:  Some universities reported establishing partnerships with leading global universities through the connections of their academic staff. The excellent performance of some staff in specific projects, had led to the expansion of some initiatives. It was also indicated that effective partnerships require close engagements and for the university leadership to be involved in the framing of the research questions and the determination of the partnership agenda. 

Contribution of the ACE Program in Facilitating Partnerships

The University Presidents cited several global universities that they were collaborating with and underscored the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program as being instrumental in branding African universities, making them attractive for global partnerships. Aside from this, the ACE programme has various initiatives at the project to promote partnerships between the centres and among them and other institutions. The inter-ACE Networks, for instance, is a shining example of such strategies. The university presidents also expressed concerns about sustaining ACE activities, citing the need for advanced labs, physical infrastructure, and the development of soft skills of researchers. 

Internationalization and Strategic Planning 

The University of Mauritius agreed that internationalization was very important and constituted a top priority in their latest strategic plan. They reported having an increased international visibility partly due to the various ranking schemes. Mauritius has a unique case of a decreasing population – leading to a need to attract international students for the local universities to remain viable. The President was concerned about the limited long-term funding to sustain collaborations. 

From the discussions, it became clear that African Universities want to engage more closely with other universities and countries on the continent and beyond. As part of their strategies, some universities in Africa offer tuition differentials to attract regional students for other parts of Africa. The President of the University of Port Harcourt emphasized that African Universities needed to also look within Africa in terms of collaborations and partnerships. He reiterated the need for African Universities to highlight what they bring to the table when partnering with global universities. It was mentioned that The World Bank used to reward non-African partnerships, but this has since changed. 

Examples of Intra-African Collaborations 

The RUFORUM Graduate Training Assistantship (GTA) was highlighted as a good example of collaboration among African Universities. The RUFORUM GTA facilitates pairing of universities to train each other’s staff for free while leveraging the teaching skills of the staff being trained.Additionally, the university of Zambia advocated for collaborations guided by the African Union Agenda 2063 and regional agendas such as SADC, EAC, ECOWAS, and ECCAS.

Encouraging Institutional Engagement and Partnerships 

University presidents were encouraged to proactively seek partnerships rather than waiting for faculty to initiate them. For example, Mbarara University of Science & Technology in Uganda successfully secured a $10 million partnership with Virginia University to support faculty training. Additionally, collaborative proposals were noted to have a higher likelihood of securing funding, with younger universities advised to leverage the expertise of more established institutions. 

Covenant University highlighted the importance of promoting faculty mobility. Despite the risk of losing staff, the institution values the exposure faculty gain from such mobility. It also runs an International Visiting Scholars (IVS) program, which features international faculty teaching virtually as part of its engagement strategies. 

At Redeemer’s University, strategic recruitment is a key focus. The university has successfully recruited a renowned scientist from Harvard University, creating a stimulating work environment to attract post-docs from top universities globally.

Contributions to the Partnerships Discussions by Various Institutions 

Various participating institutions shared valuable insights and examples of successful collaborations that have significantly impacted their academic and research capabilities. 

Bayero University Kano highlighted its benefit from the WANIDA network, which helped them acquire a sequencing machine. University Presidents confessed that they are sometimes unaware of the equipment within their universities. They emphasized the importance of universities collaborating within a country and across Africa, despite the challenges in aligning goals with other institutions. 

The University of Oslo in Norway, a strong research-based university, indicated having grown through carefully cultivated partnerships and collaborations. The Rector stressed the importance of African universities collaborating with each other while also prioritizing linkages with universities in Europe, the Americas, Asia, China, and other continents. African universities were advised to own these collaborations and commit to investing resources. 

Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry, which is sixty-two years old, was built largely on partnerships with Russia. They highlighted that staff exchanges should include administrative personnel as beneficiaries to strengthen their capacities. The university prioritizes partnerships to address national challenges. 

Covenant University in Nigeria encourages faculty mobility, despite the risk of losing staff. They recognize the immense value of exposure and run the International Visiting Scholars (IVS) program, where international faculty teach students virtually. The university has been intentional about collaborations, even though funding remains a challenge. 

The University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) urged universities not to be limited by language differences in Africa and to collaborate with their peers. They identified a gap related to the absence of a database showing universities’ strengths and interests. A Secretariat should be established to manage such a database. 

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi is celebrating 25 years of collaboration with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. This partnership has survived and grown due to political will from both countries and demonstrates that meaningful partnerships have long-term funding mechanisms. LUANAR is also training Gambian students at their AQUAFISH Center of Excellence. 

Redeemer’s University in Nigeria successfully recruited a renowned scientist from Harvard University, providing a stimulating work environment that attracts post-docs from top universities globally. The university has also established tenure track positions that are funded differently using grants they win. 

The President of the University of Malawi encouraged his colleagues to prioritize meeting and engaging with their African Vice Chancellor counterparts and not only respect colleagues from outside Africa. Universities were reminded that “funding is not a catalyst for good partnerships,” but good collaboration catalyzes funding. 

The Gambia is leveraging the capacities resident in Africa to train their future professors through partnerships with Nigeria and Ghana. A BSc in Engineering has been developed through these partnerships, with KNUST in Ghana assisting through the ACE Project to train their future academics. 

A representative from the Higher Education Commission of Mauritius provided information about opportunities offered by the Government of Mauritius to African countries. For the past 10 years, 50 scholarships have been offered annually to African students. The commission is constructing a database to support the strengthening of collaborations and is establishing a micro-credentials framework. The government also funds researchers from its public universities, focusing on impact and collaboration. 

The University of Cape Coast announced an upcoming meeting of Vice Chancellors under the Association of West African Universities in Senegal. The UCC University President also indicated that his university participates in the Times Higher Education rankings and is currently ranked number one in Ghana and West Africa, and seventh in Africa. 


The side meeting underscored the need for African universities to take the lead in shaping partnership initiatives. Universities must be driven by strong ideological orientations, aligning collaborations with strategic goals and regional development agendas. The discussions and contributions highlighted the vital role of partnerships in enhancing the educational and research capabilities of African universities, promoting collaboration, and addressing regional and national challenges.