ACEs Lead Health Research in Infectious and Genetic Diseases

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

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

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

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

“Place Students and Faculty at the Center of Digital Infrastructure Implementation” – a Senior Digital Education Expert Advises

Mr. Moussa Traore an International Digital Education Expert from the World Bank advised African Universities to always prioritize the needs of students and faculty when designing and implementing digital infrastructure. This is important because technological infrastructure must be used by students and faculty to achieve the intended learning outcomes and produce skilled graduates that would be able to address Africa’s developmental challenges. African Universities tend to prioritize internet access for their administrative purposes and not for teaching, learning and research needs, stated Mr. Traore. He said this while making a presentation during the digital transformation session at the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop hosted in Benin from 14-17 June 2022.

The overall “ICT for digital and remote learning” recommendations shared by Mr. Traore focused on infrastructure and equipment; technical support and training; quality digital content and resources and digital education policies and data governance.

Infrastructure and equipment

Mr. Traore advised universities to gradually migrate their applications, platforms, and related infrastructure to the cloud because this would reduce the need to invest in internal skills for maintaining the infrastructure. Cloud hosting also ensures that the digital platforms are continuously accessible and not affected by power outages.

Universities were encouraged to develop long-term plans for their infrastructure, which must include the replacement of wired and wireless cabling, devices and identifying funding sources. It was also said that university digital transformation plans must indicate how the security and protection of student data are assured.

Mr. Traore cautioned that universities needed to ensure that their servers had the capacity to meet current and future storage needs, and that they had the performance to run newer applications.  “It is important to be able to easily expand the storage capacities of servers as needed”, indicated Mr. Traore. Computer servers must be replaced every 3-5 years and their software regularly updated to newer versions. ​There must be additional servers for specific tasks and services – for example, a web server for online and remote training, accounting server, database server, mail server, and others.

Connectivity

Since robust connectivity is a key enabler for online learning, African universities must therefore ensure that students and faculty have broadband access to the Internet and adequate wireless connectivity. Special focus must be on the equity of access both inside and outside of the campus.

Network Engineers were advised to plan to offer a minimum of 10 mbps total bandwidth to each student and WIFI solutions must cover the whole campus including the students’ dormitories to enable them to learn from anywhere. Campus networks must implement at least the 802.11N wireless technology standard in the 5GHZ band to facilitate maximum coverage and connection for students and faculty.

Device access

Universities were called to allow students to use their own personal wireless devices in a safe and secure manner. Mr. Traore also said that content filtering and restricted guest user access must be implemented to protect the universities’ internal network resources.

It is the duty of university leaders to ensure that every student and faculty member have at least one internet access device – a smartphone, laptop, tablet, and or desktop – including appropriate software and resources for research, collaboration, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration in and outside campus.

Universities ought to design and implement plans for accommodating students who either do not have access to devices or lack devices that are compatible with the official campus learning management system.

Learning Management System (LMS) Use

African Universities were advised to ensure that they offered a digital and distance learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, Sakai, Blackboard or other preferred LMS.

There ought to be clear instructions given to students concerning how to use the LMS and tips for navigating the specifics of a course.

Technical Support and Training

Universities were advised to prepare their Information Technology (IT) support staff to provide just-in-time support to students and faculty members.

There must be a plan for continuous Professional Learning Opportunities for university IT staff. Mr. Traore mentioned observing over the period, that many of the universities were not creating such learning opportunities for their staff, therefore universities ought to refine their goals and set a focus on this area since changes happen frequently in the IT sector. Adding, that the modes and frequency of professional learning activities need to be clarified as an institutional policy.

Mr. Moussa Traore Presenting at the 7th ACE Impact Workshop
Mr. Moussa Traore Presenting at the 7th ACE Impact Workshop

Provide Access to Technology and Support

Universities need to identify and put in place support mechanisms to help students and faculty when they experience technical difficulties. Such a support plan, when adopted should be communicated to all faculty and students.

An annual training program on the use of the university LMS must be developed and shared with faculty and students. Offering educational technology support to faculty and students increases their digital literacy declared Mr Moussa Traore.

Quality Digital Content and Resources

The technologies that are deployed must be fit for purpose and should facilitate the management and provision of learning materials. Again, African Universities were advised to support the development and use of openly licensed educational materials to promote innovative and creative opportunities for all learners and to accelerate the development and adoption of new open technology–based learning tools and courses.​

Mr. Traore also advised universities to take inventory of all their learning technology resources and align them to intended educational outcomes.

Policies and Governance

Prioritization of the implementation of data initiatives and the collection of data to drive decision-making in African Universities was recommended by Mr. Troare. “To collect data, universities must implement robust Education Management Information System (EMIS) so that they can collect all existing data on students, faculty, and the universities”, he added.

Collected Data must be regularly analyzed to determine whether additional data need to be collected to address priorities. Mr. Traore recommended the creation of a comprehensive map and database of connectivity, device access, openly licensed educational resources, and their usage across the institution.​

Mr. Traore underscored the importance of establishing governance for learning and educational technologies to avoid problems with the efficient delivery of systems, confusion over policy, and variation in the types and quality of services and tools provided.

He stressed the importance of implementing an IT security policy, saying that cybersecurity and cyber safety training for students, faculty and staff in general needed to be prioritized. He also stated that digital and distance learning policies needed to be developed and implemented by African Universities.

Technology Planning and Purchasing

University Leaders were informed that they needed to define their Technology Budgets as a matter of priority. Existing budgets must be reviewed, and an inventory of available technology done. Vice Chancellors must work with their Directors of ICT to determine the costs for upgrading infrastructure and purchasing new devices as well as identify funds to meet short- and long-term goals.

Universities must develop a multi-year plan to support and sustain the costs of technology. Similarly, budgets must be regularly reviewed and refined to accommodate the costs of technology.

Technology Evaluation

In conclusion Mr. Moussa Traore said that the periodic evaluation of all technological solutions was important because this provides opportunities to obtain feedback and improve technological services to benefit both students and faculty. During technology evaluations, universities were advised to reflect on questions such as – Is technology being used effectively? Is technology getting in the way of pedagogy? Are the students engaged in the lessons? ​ Do the faculty staff display or have confidence in the use of the technology? Are the hardware and software installed and configured correctly?​ Are there things that the IT Support team can do to facilitate learning?​

 

Written By: Ms Nodumo Dhlamini, Director ICT Services, Communications & Knowledge Management at AAU

 

Gender Policies in Action – African Higher Education Institutions Urged to Create an Enabling Environment for Women to Grow

Gender Policies in Action – African Higher Education Institutions Urged to Create an Enabling Environment for Women to Grow

Universities and other higher education institutions across the continent have been urged to take radical and positive actions to redress the long-standing gender inequalities in their various processes and ecosystem which continue to hamper women’s progress and effective participation in the sector. Building more resilient and gender inclusive systems, has been recognized as being key to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and the full participation of women and girls in the various thematic subject areas of Higher Education, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM).

Given the enormous benefits that gender inclusivity brings to higher education and indeed, society at large, the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop hosted in Cotonou Benin from 14 -17 June, 2022 prioritized discussions around the promotion and strengthening of policies and processes to particularly empower women and girls. The objective of the plenary session focusing on gender, was to provide an interactive platform for participants to reflect, discuss and be encouraged to create and strengthen policies to promote the attraction, retention and the professional and personal development of women in higher education, especially those in the STEM fields.

The session was ably chaired by Dr. Aissetou Yaye, a distinguished academic and Deputy Centre Leader for the Regional Center of Excellence on Pastoral Productions: Meat, Milk, Hides and Skins (CERPP), in Niger. It featured key presentations and an interactive and highly insightful panel discussion.

Women in STEM in Greater Number and Quality is Key to the Realisation of the Power of STEM – Ms. Lydie Hakizimana

Addressing participants at the workshop, Ms. Lydie Hakizimana, the Chief Executive Officer of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMs) underscored the transformative power of empowered women and girls in the STEM and other fields to nations across the world.

She referenced the legendary all-female army of the Kingdom of Dahomey in Benin, which were referred to as Dahomey Amazons and known for their fearlessness, and equal role in conquering and resisting their oppressors. The Dahomey Amazons clearly demonstrate that women can play equal roles in all institutions – political, military, education, among others.

 

Ms. Hakizimana  noted that societies where women are valued and get the opportunity they deserve tend to flourish and thus it was important for stakeholders to take pragmatic steps to boost the equal participation of women in STEM. She stated, that though women have made inroads in terms of their participation in STEM areas, we are still far from attaining parity and therefore urgent interventions needed to be implemented to increase the quantity of women in STEM.

Citing the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMs) model, Ms. Hakizimana spoke about the various initiatives being implemented by AIMs to increase the number of women in STEM to support Africa’s transformation agenda.  The ‘Girls in Mathematical Science’ programme, launched in Ghana for bright, curious and creative senior high school students and aimed at unlocking their potentials, as well as the awarding of several fellowships to women in the area of climate change to spur the generation of science-based solutions to the challenges related to climate change, were referenced as brilliant examples.

Again, AIMs was said to be guided in all its processes by an established goal of attaining gender parity by the year 2027 and pioneering an innovative learning model for women through education and training. The CEO of the African Institute for Mathematics indicated that the institution was inching close to its target, as about 33% of its alumni, representing more that 25,000 alumni are women in the STEM fields.  She reiterated the institution’s commitment to promoting gender diversity and to creating an inclusive environment for learning and research.

Ms. Hakizimana stressed the important roles of academic institutions in promoting women leadership and in fostering an enabling environment for women to effectively balance their biological roles of motherhood and their careers.

She motivated higher education institutions to identify and break the biases against women in their systems, empower women to reach their full potentials and to recognise the talents of women while ensuring gender inclusion at all levels and in all their processes.

She also called for the strengthening of entrepreneurship as it serves as a key solution to addressing unemployment and empowering women. Summing up her delivery, the CEO of AIMS said that ‘There is no HERO without HER’, implying that women make an unequivocal contribution to solving societies’ developmental challenges.

Various Strategies Employed by Centres of Excellence to Promote the Participation of Women in STEM

A high-level panel discussion was hosted as part of this session on gender, and it featured – Prof. Nahoua Soro of the African Centre of Excellence in Statistics and Quantitative Economics (ENSEA), Cote d’Ivoire; Prof. Barnabas A. Ikyo of the Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER), Nigeria, Prof. Pitala of the Regional Center of Excellence in Avian Science (CERSA); and Ms. Lydie Hakizimana, the Chief Executive Officer of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMs).

Contributing to the discussions, Prof. Nahoua Soro bemoaned the low number of women in science in the lower levels of education, and thus their equally low participation in STEM areas at the higher education level. As a corresponding intervention, the centre introduced a strategy where a Caravan moves round to introduce younger students, especially females to the activities and focus areas of the Centre. According to her, this Caravan initiative, is supported by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the World Bank. The initiative adopts the innovative strategy of having patrons who serve as role models to the girls – including the Minister of Planning and Development of Cote d’Ivoire and the Centre’s female alumni and students who are statisticians.  aside adopting this strategy to encourage young girls to take up studies and careers in statistics, the centre also helps in training and preparing them to take the requisite admission tests and examinations, through provision of materials and computers among others.  It was mentioned that slight improvements in the female participation and enrolment in the Statistical programmes have been recorded, however there remains a lot more to be done to reach the target of having 30% female participation in this area.

For his part, Prof. Ikyo of CEFTER stated that the centre was competitively selected to be part of the ACE Impact project under the able leadership of a female vice-chancellor, thus they highly recognise the power of women and promote women empowerment.  He said that the centre has a good number of females in its team who are competent and merited their appointments, and these included the Deputy Centre Leader and the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer.  He lauded the ACE Impact project for strategically encouraging the Centres to train more female students, by allotting more funds for the attraction and enrolment of females. Speaking to the strategies employed by CEFTER to promote women’s participation and advancement, he mentioned that the Centre introduced a measure requiring all programmes to have female senior academics. The benefits of this intervention, according to him were numerous and included presenting role models to the female students. The centre also introduced student support programmes designed to create the environment for females to thrive and these included the provision of decent accommodation, the introduction of favourable recruitment procedures and the establishment of clear merit-based appointments.

Representing CERSA, Prof. Pitala stated that the centre ensures that its call for applications for candidates encourages females to apply, in a bid to reach a 40% enrolment of females’ status. Additionally, the centre offers scholarships to female students and engages companies where students go for internships to create a conducive environment for their female students, especially those with young children.

Ms. Lydie Hakizimana of AIMs encouraged women and the centres to break biases at three levels which she identified as follows – structural bias (related to societal norms); organisational bias (related to discrimination at the workplace and HEIs) and finally personal bias (where one feels incapable of taking up higher responsibilities and appointments, that is limiting oneself and not taking up challenges)

Discussions By Participants and Key Points for Action

In an open discussion during the question-and-answer session, participants and the panelists identified critical steps to be adopted by the centres and generally African higher education institutions, some of which are captured as follows – firstly, stakeholders were encouraged to unclog the pipeline. By this, it was explained that the efforts to ensure gender parity and equal participation of women in STEM and other subject areas, needed to start from the primary school level. A connected proposal as part of unclogging the pipeline was to engage female teachers to serve as mentors and role models to younger girls.  Secondly, the need to create opportunities to continuously develop the skills of women and to retain women in STEM in the workforce was highlighted.  Stakeholders also called for the implementation and introduction of incentives, and even laws (if possible) to promote females’ improved participation in STEM fields. The engagement of men as allies to support women to move up the ladder was also underscored.   The introduction of innovative techniques, such as the introduction of ‘Miss Mathematics in Senegal’, had proved to be effective, thus stakeholders were encouraged to adopt strategies which would appeal to young girls when engaging them.  Offering of scholarships and setting aside special funds for unearthing and developing the talents of Women in STEM were proposed for adoption by institutions that are yet to implement such strategies.

Ms. Djénéba Gory
Ms. Djénéba Gory

Planned Intervention by AAU and World Bank to Support Centres’ Gender Promotion Efforts

Ms. Djénéba Gory, a consultant and ACE Impact core team member at the World Bank took participants through some of the plans by the World Bank and the Association of African Universities in terms of supporting the centres to increase their female enrolments and retention. These included plans to implement activities such as ‘the women talk series’, the establishment of communities of practice, capacity building sessions in key topical themes, launch of a mentorship programme, organisation of webinars among several others. Ms. Gory called on Centres to support these initiatives, once they were rolled out, taking ownership and being agile in terms of leveraging the initiatives to suit their institutional needs.

 

Written by: Mrs. Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications Officer, AAU

Universities Planning Digital Transformation Initiatives Advised to Consider the C-CoDE Model

Effective and learner-centered digital transformation of African higher educational institutions requires a holistic and sustainable approach so that the intended outcomes from higher education can be realized. A well-thought-out digital transformation strategy by African Universities would also ensure that budgets are identified, staff and students are continuously trained, appropriate infrastructure is set up, sustainability and partnership plans are implemented, and supportive institutional policies and strategies are put in place.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, the infrastructural challenges and limitations in Africa’s higher education system further exacerbated equity & access challenges. Digital Skills among faculty and students were also identified to be a major challenge. Faculty in most of the African Universities had limited or no experience with implementing and using online teaching and learning tools, platforms, and methods. Furthermore, most of the teaching content was also found to be inappropriate for online use. Again, emergency online teaching methods were not supported by institutional policies and practices. Academic faculty and other stakeholders continue to be concerned about quality assurance and recognition of online courses and programs.

One of the plenary sessions during the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, hosted in Cotonou, Benin, was dedicated to the discussion of digital transformation activities that are supported by the Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project (ACE Impact). This session was chaired by Professor Gikiri Thuo, one of the subject matter experts supporting the ACE Impact Project. The session featured a presentation by Dr Dimitris Noukakis from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne who gave a report on the progress of the Centres of Competence in Digital Education (C-CoDE) Initiative being implemented in partnership with the Association of African Universities and six competitively selected ACE Impact Centres since September 2021. The participating ACE Centers are the Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL) at the National Open University in Nigeria; the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Power and Energy Development (ACE-SPED) at the University of Nigeria Nsukka; the Africa Center of Excellence in Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP) and the Center for Dryland Agriculture (CDA) at Bayero University in Kano. The others are the Regional Center for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (RCEES) at the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana; CEA-Centre d’Etudes, de Formation et de Recherche en Gestion des Risques Sociaux (CEFORGRIS) at the Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo in Burkina Faso and Centre d’Excellence Africain en Sciences, Mathématiques, Informatique et Application (CEA-SMIA) at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi in Bénin.

Dr. Noukakis said that the C-CoDE model has been well thought-out to address all the dimensions of digital transformation in higher education and to ensure that academics are well trained to drive the transformation themselves. Thus, universities planning to digitally transform their institutions are encouraged to consider the adoption of this model.

Dr. Noukakis explained that the six participating universities are being supported to strengthen themselves towards establishing Centers of Competence in Digital Education on their campuses to promote the sustainable integration of digital education in their teaching processes, as a means of strengthening the quality of teaching as well as the competencies of graduates.

He explained that the C-CoDE concept facilitates the digital transition of Higher Education by addressing key underlying issues such as the adaptation of pedagogy to the digital environment, provision of infrastructure and building of technical competences. The objective of the C-CoDE initiative is to sustainably integrate digital education in African universities. The expected outcome from C-CoDE is strengthened quality education and skilled graduates. Dr. Noukakis said that the C-CoDE model proposes that the solution to digital transformation is to “place all the needed skills, competences and infrastructure under one roof”. The outputs of the C-CoDE concept are resident experts in digital education; a pool of faculty members trained in and championing digital education, and conducive environments/places to design, produce and distribute digital educational content.

Dr. Noukakis said that there were already significant outputs from the C-CoDE initiative since its launch in September 2021.  Using the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) pedagogical model, 18 digital education experts were trained and required to convert one of their courses for online delivery so that they learn the practical skills. Two cohorts, one English and the other French, went through three online workshops that applied the flipped classroom style and tutoring teaching methods. The fourth workshops were held as face-to-face activities in Abuja and Cotonou.

A total of 180 faculty members from the six participating universities are being trained between January 2022 to July 2022, using four facilitated Digital Education Masterclass Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). Twelve Technicians are being trained on-site and would also receive two weeks hands-on training so that they are able to support the digital education studios.

Reflecting on some of the key next steps in relation to the C-CoDE initiative, Dr. Noukakis intimated that the finalization of construction works for the digital education studios in the participating universities is programmed to be completed in July 2022, whilst the procurement of information technology and multimedia equipment is planned for August 2022. Plans are underway, to inaugurate the six C-CoDE centres in September 2022.

Dr. Noukakis concluded by reporting that the training in Digital Education was highly appreciated by the participating academic faculty and institutions. Tutoring and facilitation were also recognized as being very important when training students online. Similarly, the need to add more modularity to the trainings to accommodate busy academics through shorter modules was also mentioned.   Finally, he said that it is important to engage trained faculty in digital course development and to align the sustainability plan of the C-CoDE initiative with universities’ strategies.

During the question-and-answer session, the participants sought to find out how the mindsets of stakeholders could be transformed to accept digital education. In response, Dr. Noukakis advised that motivating academic faculty and students could not be achieved “by just introducing technology”. However motivating people to transform their teaching methods could be achieved through training them and demonstrating the benefits of digital education to the faculty and students. He said that the faculty must understand the whole cycle and must be fully engaged. In addition, institutional policies must be changed to accommodate the adoption of digital education and include learner-centric approaches to digital transformation to ensure the success of the implementation of digital education. Participants at this session were asked to reflect on who was at the center of focus in their campus digital transformation initiatives because campuses need to be organic places that respond to the needs of students.

 

Written By: Ms Nodumo Dhlamini, Director ICT Services, Communications & Knowledge Management at AAU

ACE Impact Stakeholders Interact with the Press on Project Implementation

As part of the 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, members of the media were given an opportunity to interact with the project stakeholders in a Press briefing held on 14th June 2022 at Palais de Congres, Contonou in Benin. Present were the Secretary-General of the Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Olusola B. Oyewole, the ACE Impact Task Team Leader and Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank, Dr. Ekua Bentil, and the Centre Leaders from Benin, the host country of the 7th ACE Impact Workshop. These were – Professor Daouda Mama of the Water and Sanitation Centre and Prof. Guy Alitonou of the University of Abomey Calavi’s College of Engineering.

During the briefing, Professor Oyewole highlighted some successes achieved by the project since its inception. He mentioned that the Project’s Development Objective is to improve the quality, quantity, and development impact of postgraduate education in participating universities through regional specialization and collaboration. “ACE Impact is strengthening key thematic areas that address regional challenges, and concurrently improving the capacities of universities to deliver quality training and applied research”, said Prof. Oyewole.  He further noted that 22, 161 students are currently enrolled in the various centres of excellence, undertaking programmes in the different thematic areas of the project. It was added, that out of this number, 2,853 are PhD students, 9,097 are MSc students, and 10, 211 are enrolled in Professional Short Courses. Prof. Oyewole further indicated that Over 7,214 of the students enrolled are females and this represents 33 percent of the overall student population. Additionally, the project had created internship opportunities for 4,766 students to gain practical sector-based skills and expertise. “To boost innovativeness, proffer solutions for solving the continent’s challenges, and contribute to knowledge creation, the centres continue to undertake key research on topical issues” Prof. Oyewole added. He concluded by saying that the AAU was leveraging the brilliant ACE model and promoting it to all other African Higher Educational institutions for adoption to facilitate transformation of the continent’s higher education sector.

Responding to the rationale behind the ACE Impact Project, Dr. Ekua Bentil of the World Bank explained that the project was the first World Bank funded regional higher education initiative for Africa. According to her, the ACE Impact Project was necessitated by the need to develop home-grown skill sets for the labor market as well as applied research that responds to Africa’s developmental challenges. She added that the ACE Project is a model that needs to be replicated to elevate higher education in the region. Replying to a question raised by the press about project extension beyond its five-year duration (2019-2024), Dr. Bentil stated that the possibility of an extension would have to follow a systematic process of review by all partners including the participating governments and the World Bank.

In highlighting support to the Centres by the Project, Professors Alitonou and Mama mentioned that through the project, Centres are benefitting from the provision of enabling teaching and learning environments as well as ultra-modern laboratory equipment and upgraded facilities among other substantial benefits crucial to the enhancement of research, teaching and learning.

The Press Briefing was conducted in a hybrid manner to accommodate both physical and virtual participants. It brought together over 12 local and international journalists out of which five participated virtually. Some ACE Impact Communication Officers from the Centres also participated in the press conference virtually.

 

Written by: Millicent Afriyie Kyei, ACE Impact Communications Officer

Strong M&E helps track DLIs

Strong Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning Systems and Processes Helps Track the Status of the ACE Impact Project’s Implementation & Achievement of Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs)

To promote greater transparency, data-driven decision making, improved project performance and learning, as well as effective resource allocation among several other reasons, ACE Impact places a high premium on Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL). The project’s MEL Specialist, Mrs. Adeline Addy presented the status of implementation and achievement of the Disbursement Linked Indicators at the ongoing 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, in Cotonou, Benin. As a results-oriented project, the Disbursement Linked Indicators are project requirements that centres must attain before receiving funds.

The 53 Centres of excellence are divided into two groups, 1st ACE Impact and 2nd ACE Impact centres, depending on when their projects were approved for implementation. Centres from Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea, and Senegal are in the 1st ACE Impact group while Centres from Benin, Gambia, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire are in the 2nd ACE Impact group.

Process-wise, the results achieved by centres from both groups are initially submitted to the AAU as the Regional Facilitating Unit through an online digital reporting system. After this, an external verification agency is appointed to verify the results. Verified results lead to the Centres receiving funds for the results achieved.

The presentation by the Project’s MEL Specialist focused on the status of the project development objectives (PDO) for both the 1st and 2nd ACE Impact Centres, as well as for the overall project. She also shared the country-level status per DLI​ and provided an overview of the highlights and challenges. The presentation concluded by sharing the schedule for results reporting and verification.

The highlights were that the 1st ACE Impact Centres had achieved 51% of the DLIs, with three (3) out of five (5) PDO indicators on target including student enrollment, programme accreditation and student and faculty internships. Strong performance had also been recorded under PhD training (74%); External Revenue Generation (74%), Masters level training (73%); and Research Publications (72%). The areas of concern with the 1st ACE Impact Centres were the generally low achievement rates under Overall Fiduciary (20%), Programme Accreditation (19%), Infrastructure (16%) and Overall Institutional Impact (8%) – however some Centres individually did well in these areas of concern.

The presentation pointed out that the 2nd ACE Impact Centres had achieved 32% of the DLIs. Noteworthy performance was also highlighted under Masters enrolment and training (56%), Short Courses (55%), PhD (54%), Research Publications (53%) and External Revenue (44%).  The areas of concern with 2nd ACE Impact Centres were the overall low achievements on Fiduciary (13%) and Institutional Impact (0.3%). However, some Centres individually did well in the indicated areas of concern. Apparent lack of progress was noted under DLR 4.1 (Number of internationally, regionally/sub-regionally accredited education programs), DLR 4.3 (Improved teaching and research environment as per approved proposal) and DLR 5.3 (Number of new entrepreneurships, innovation, start-up companies, and commercialization support programs). Worth noting is the fact that some of the processes towards achieving some of these DLRs, for instance DLR 4.1 related to accreditation takes quite some time, and the centres were working hard to achieve the expected results. Centers were also encouraged to step up their efforts in some of these areas.

Mrs. Addy also indicated that the Results Verification Schedule for June 2022 to August 2022 includes the following key milestones:

  1. Completion of results submissions by 30 June 2022
  2. Verification of results from 1 to 30 July 2022
  3. Finalization of results 1 to 10 August 2022
  4. Issuing of verification notices/letters by the RFU, the Association of African Universities by 15 August 2022

 

Project Performance & Disbursement – Ms. Maud Kouadio-IV

Ms. Maud Kouadio-IV, the Education Consultant and ACE core team member with the World Bank reported that most of the 1st ACE Impact Centres had exceeded their project average for DLI achievements and most of the 2nd ACE Impact Centres had also exceeded their project average. It was reported that the performance of some of the Centres had been negatively affected by delays at a national level in approving the projects, the COVID-19 pandemic, and coup d’etats in some countries.

For the 1st Group of ACE Impact Centres, as at end of May 2022, the total International Development Association (IDA) funds received project wise was 40% – with Ghana Centres topping in terms of IDA funds that they have received to date – 51%. For the 2nd Group of ACE Impact Centres, as at end of May 2022, the total IDA funds received project wise was 22% – with Benin Centres topping in terms of IDA funds that they have received to date – 27%.

The International Development Association (IDA) is the portion of the World Bank that aids the world’s neediest countries. Created in 1960, IDA aims to reduce poverty by providing zero to low-interest loans (called “credits”) and grants for programs that increase economic growth, reduce inequalities, and advance people’s living conditions.

Ms. Kouadio-IV stated that the first Group of ACE Impact Centres had completed their mid-term review (MTR) process, whilst the 2nd group were scheduled to conclude theirs in November 2022.

The project-wide recommendations include project extension to June 2025 because of COVID-19 related implementation delays, and procurement delays beyond the control of the centers. Ms. Kouadio-IV noted that there were disruptions to the academic calendar, regional student enrollment, internships, and staff mobility. She advised that discussions needed start at national level to prepare and submit official requests for extension to the Bank.

On project fund reallocations, she said that these would follow agreed criteria to ensure optimum use of project funds. The criteria for fund reallocations would include merit, the Centers’ needs, planned activities, expected results, and case-by-case reallocation.

It was mentioned that some disbursement-linked indicators (DLIs) would change, and these include DLI2 (Development Impact of ACE Center), DLI6.4 (Quality of Procurement planning) and DLI7.4 (ACE host university participate in PASET ). The changes are meant to reflect the challenges that have arisen in the project and to ensure that centers still have the chance to earn 100% of project funds in the remaining project time.

Ms. Maud Kouadio-IV
Ms. Maud Kouadio-IV

Ms. Kouadio-IV said that the parameters for the additional financing for Centres would consider the DLI achievement rate, fund utilization rate, implementation performance rate and qualitative assessment of the Centres.

 

Wrapping up, the Centres were advised to accelerate the implementation of their project “as if there would be no project extension”, since this was not currently assured. The RFU and the Subject Matter Experts have been assisting the Centres to develop and implement accelerated implementation plans aimed at guiding the Centres to fully deliver the expected results.

 

Written By: Ms Nodumo Dhlamini, Director ICT Services, Communications and Knowledge Management at AAU

Reviewed By: Mrs Adeline Addy, MEL Officer at AAU and Mrs Felicia Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications & Publications Officer at AAU

AAU, Highlights the ACE Impact Project’s Mid-Term Review Results

The Association of African Universities, the Regional Facilitation Unit for the ACE Impact Project Highlights the Project’s Mid-Term Review Results

The 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop being hosted in Cotonou, Benin from 14-17 June 2022 featured nine plenary sessions, four parallel sessions and three performance clinics. Close to 300 ACE Impact project stakeholders convened to review the performance of the project, network and reconnect physically for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first plenary session on Tuesday 14th June 2022 focused on receiving four presentations that provided an overall update on the progress and status of the ACE Impact Project and highlighted the results from the ongoing mid-term review (MTR) of the project. This session was chaired by Professor Salifu Mohammed who is one of the Project’s Steering Committee members and the Executive Secretary of the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission.

The four presentations were from Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, the Project Manager of the ACE Impact Project; Mrs. Adeline Addy, the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist; Ms. Maud Kouadio-IV, the Education Consultant and ACE core team member with the World Bank and Professor Joseph Mutale, one of the Subject Matter Experts supporting the Centres of Excellence.

Regional Facilitating Unit (RFU) Key Project Updates by Dr Sylvia Mkandawire

Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire provided overall project updates, key highlights of each project component, areas needing significant attention and concluded by reflecting on the challenges and opportunities.

The project has realized impressive results that include 3,524 research publications, 4,766 internships and 22,161 enrolled students to date. A total of USD 86.5 million has been mobilized by the Centres as external and additional revenue.  The highest research publications were produced in the STEM theme (42%), the highest number of financial resources were raised from grants (75%), and the private sector provided 51% of the internship places for ACE Impact students. The project has exceeded its set targets of enrolling and training PhD and MSc students – by 19% and 8% respectively. A total of 7,214 females (33% of total number of students) have been enrolled as post-graduate students since the project’s inception in 2019 and this is in line with the project’s thrust of increasing the number of women enrolled in post-graduate training programs. As indicated in the presentation, some of these figures are yet to be independently verified.

To support effective implementation of the ACE Impact project, some countries, such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and The Gambia, have established National Facilitation Units (NFU). Where NFU’s exist, it is evident that those projects are better tracked and supported by their governments. NFU’s also support the procurement of equipment for the Centres, communication to increase project visibility, capacity building for financial management, verification and accreditation of programmes, land acquisition, and recruitment of national subject matter experts among others.

During this reporting period (October 2021 – May 2022), the RFU provided implementation support to the Centres by organizing fourteen in-person missions, twenty virtual missions and preparing the Centres for the mid-term review process. The lessons garnered were that there was need for more in-person implementation support missions to the Centres, prioritization of pending procurements by the Centres, support for the Centres’ accelerated implementation plans and a need for the Centres to strengthen the visibility of their programs and research.

The development impact of the Centres is demonstrated through the publication of key research breakthroughs, such as genetic diversity of SARS-CoV2 infections in Ghana; lessons for the world concerning COVID-19 in Africa; use of drones for data collection; development of solar-powered irrigation system curricula; development of new early growth groundnut seeds for African farmers; and a software application to improve transport and mobility in Ghana. Excellence in leadership continued to be demonstrated through eight prestigious awards won by both Centres’ faculty and students. For example, Ms Atut Chantal Tiku, a student from WACWISA in Ghana won the 2021 University for Development Studies Vice Chancellor’s Business Innovation Award​.

The ACE Impact Project places emphasis on partnerships as a method of building capacities, mobilizing resources, and sustaining the project’s goals. Four partnerships were highlighted by Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, and these include the collaboration with IBM for Student Internships at IBM’s research laboratories in Kenya and South Africa; the EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne) / AAU Centers of Competence in Digital Education (C-CoDE) initiative which is transforming digital education in Africa; The PARTNER IRD​ (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) initiative that supports four thematic networks, namely, WANIDA, NET-WATER, DSTN and RAMR2D; and the ELSEVIER​ partnership for Capacity Building in Scientific Writing and Publications​.

With support from the World Bank, the RFU has launched an innovative Research Awards initiative called the ACE Impact Students’ Innovative Awards (SIRA). SIRA aims to promote the production of innovative and impactful knowledge through research​; and the generation of scientific and intellectual tangibles that provide solutions to Africa’s problems in the most critical priority areas of development. Let the maximum fitness of vacaville, California, personal trainers develop a fitness plan just for you. Fifteen (15) best research projects will be competitively selected and awarded in five ACE Impact thematic areas.  Students enrolled in an ACE Impact supported programme at the time of a SIRA call for applications are eligible to participate.

It was highlighted that the challenges faced by the Centres also present opportunities for project implementation redesign. The main challenges faced by the ACE Impact Project, as reported are listed below.

  1. There were disruptive and recurrent strikes and coup d’états at some ACE Impact institutions and countries, leading to delays of some scheduled activities related to Centre workplans and activities.​
  2. Procurement activities at the national level continued to delay the project activities of some Centres.
  3. The centres participating in the C-CoDE Initiative experienced challenges in the procurement of equipment given that these were not readily available in their home countries and needed to be outsourced from manufacturers abroad. ​
  4. There were difficulties in adhering to timelines for the submission of documents by some Centres to the Regional Facilitating Unit mainly relating to Annual Workplans, DLR 5.3 (focused on innovation and entrepreneurship) and DLIs 2 (focused on Development Impact) and DLR 7 (focused on Institutional Impact). This also delayed the review processes and subsequently the implementation of related activities.​

Through the discussions and exchange of ideas during thematic performance clinics and parallel sessions at the ongoing regional workshop, solutions towards addressing the identified challenges will be garnered.  The ACE Impact project stakeholders remain committed towards the enhancement of quality education and research as well as harnessing skills to meet Africa’s development needs.

 

Written By: Ms. Nodumo Dhlamini, Director ICT Services, Communications and Knowledge Management at AAU

Innovative Societies Have Stable Economic Growth – Dr. Danica Ramljak

A senior consultant and expert in entrepreneurship and innovation at the World Bank, Dr. Danica Ramljak underscored the critical role innovation and entrepreneurship play in advancing the economic growth of countries.  Speaking during the session on entrepreneurship and innovation, at the 7th ACE Impact regional workshop held in Cotonou Benin, she called on higher education institutions to strengthen their efforts in the areas of technology transfer, development of institutional innovation and the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The session broadly featured an interactive discussion on how the 53 Centres of Excellence are progressing with entrepreneurship and innovation, building on lessons from both within and outside the African continent.

 

The Disbursement Linked Indicator (DLI) 5.3 – Key Observations and Next Steps

Making a presentation on DLI 5.3 which focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship, Dr. Danica Ramljak took participants through the key targets of the implementation plan, including a focus on innovation-oriented cooperation in research infrastructures and collaboration with the private sector. Centres had earlier been given opportunities to develop implementation plans on how to accomplish the activities related to innovation and entrepreneurship as part of DLI5.3. Dr. Danika used the opportunity to provide feedback to the Centres on their applications.

She called on the centres to pay special attention to the established criteria for the review process of applications under this indicator, which included – quality background description of institutional and innovation ecosystems. Others included justification for the proposed activity and a detailed explanation of the proposed implementation plan with specific descriptions of each activity, highlighting the goals, timelines and person (s) responsible.  The verification criteria and budget as well as the justification for the budget were said to be part of the criteria.

Commenting on the general results from the review process, it was mentioned that the quality of applications significantly differed, in ways which cannot be attributed to the country of origin or scientific research interest areas of the Centres. The number of improved resubmissions were also noted to have been significantly increased during the resubmission stage. Again, it was observed that the Centres were at different levels in terms of institutional innovation ecosystem.

Participants were reminded of the key roles of higher education in the areas of knowledge generation, training of skilled human resource and the development of technology that can be transferred to industry among others.  Based on these roles, including others such as undertaking research for industry and the development of competitive products, the session participants were encouraged to advocate and engage the authorities in their institutions and at the country levels to prioritise innovation.

They were also encouraged to measure and determine the technology readiness level of their institutions for innovation and commercialisation as this was an important step towards planning and putting measures in place to foster the readiness of their systems for full scale deployment.

Key among the recommendations towards becoming fully blown entrepreneurial and innovative institutions, the importance of having appropriate Science Technology Innovation (STI) policies in place and ensuring its effective implementation was underscored. Other recommendations outlined included – ensuring institutional capacity building for STI management and governance, the establishment of efficient models for knowledge transfer and the provision of institutional capacity building. It was also recommended that centres define their research and development priorities, develop a roadmap for research infrastructure and provide sustainable support for innovation development.  Equally important to fostering innovation and entrepreneurial activities were the recommendations to attract the private sector to collaborate and invest in HEIs research and development (R&D), the need to strengthen international collaborations, a well as inform the general public about the importance of the Centres’ work.

Experience Sharing on Entrepreneurship and Innovation by Three Centres of Excellence – ACECoR, CERSA and OAU-OAK PARK

A high-level panel composed of Mr. Joshua Adotey from the Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience (ACECoR), Ghana, Prof. Adesola Aderounmu from OAU ICT-Driven Knowledge Park, Nigeria and Dr. Edoh representing the Regional Center of Excellence on Avian Sciences (CERSA), Togo discussed key issues and shared their experiences on how to excel and meet the requirements of DLI 5.3.

Speaking on the key challenges encountered in their institutions’ ecosystems which inhibit their work in this area, CERSA identified the lack of a technology transfer office to facilitate their commercialization process, and the low marketing of results generated by the researchers.  For ACECoR, there was the lack of entrepreneurship policies at the initial stage of developing the framework for the DLI. Limited engagement and collaboration between industry and the university was also a challenge, however this has been improved drastically and currently industry members are engaged closely in various ways, including in remodeling some programmes and courses.  ACECoR highlighted how the support from university authorities, especially the vice-chancellor helped them overcome some of their challenges, leading to the strengthening of their technology office.

For OAU-OAK PARK, the focus on developing the skills of students had been prime on their agenda, however the development of IT entrepreneurs had not been prioritized, thus they identified the need to train the youth in this area for wealth creation and capacity development among others.  Having done all these however, the key challenge of their inability to attract investors to fund the innovations and products including spin off institutions, remains.  Another challenge faced related to intellectual property rights issues which come up as they partner with industry in generating some innovations.  Participants were told that the centre has put in place pragmatic measures to overcome these challenges, including training students to develop business plans, providing seed funding for the innovations, engaging the University’s intellectual property rights office from the start of discussions with industry players.

Speaking on how to be successful in innovation, the experienced panelists advised centres to strengthen their engagement with the private sector, implement measures to motivate their researchers, and to develop and implement institutional manuals and procedures to guide various processes. Again, the Centres were encouraged to ensure that there is a fully functional entrepreneurial ecosystem which has people with the right skills, a pool of investors supporting their research work, a ready market to uptake developed innovations and the sensitisation of stakeholders to embrace entrepreneurship. Additionally, commitment from institutional authorities toward innovation and entrepreneurship was said to be key, just like having an Intellectual Property Technology Transfer Office (IPPTO) and a sustainability plan.

Centre’s Impact on University Systems

Tackling the discussion on how Centre’s activities impact and strengthen the university system, numerous contributions were shared.  Among these, ACECoR for instance is engaging the University’s Directorate of Research, Innovation and Consultancy (DRIC) in operationalising the formulation on Innovation, thereby building capacity in the team.  It is also creating an enabling environment for the service incubation centre of the institution.

Similarly, OAU- OAK is supporting capacity building of the institution’s Business Resource Centre, linking this centre to industry players and also collaborating with them to organise technology focused conferences. Again, some spin off companies from the centre’s activities now serve as places for practical skill acquisition for the University’s students, through internships.

 

Leveraging ACE Impact Project to strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship in African HEIs

Following a question-and-answer session from participants, Dr. Danica Ramljak wrapped up the session by calling on the centres to leverage the opportunity presented by the project to improve their institutions’ innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.  Centres were encouraged to for instance draw on the project to beef up capacity in their technology transfer offices, if they are understaffed.  They were urged to strengthen partnerships among themselves as centres and with other international partners, advocate for the development and implementation of Intellectual Property Policies among others.

Finally, the centres of excellence were called upon to lobby and engage their ministries and universities to recognise innovation and entrepreneurship activities of researchers as part of career progress and promotion indicators, and equally work hard to bring in money from other external sources to support innovation and entrepreneurship as these are key ingredients to economic growth of countries across the continent.

 

Written By: Mrs. Felicia Nkrumah Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications and Publications Officer, AAU

High Level 7th Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Regional Workshop kicks off at Palais des Congrès, Cotonou, Benin – Minister of Higher Education formally opens the workshop

A four-day higher education regional workshop, which brought together approximately 300 higher education stakeholders from Africa and beyond, was held in Cotonou, Benin. The workshop was hosted by the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) Project from 14 -17, June 2022.

In attendance were team members from the 53 centres of excellence from the 11 participating African Countries, Project teams from the World Bank, French Development Agency, and the Association of African Universities, Subject Matter Experts, Vice Chancellors, Students, Industry partners and other various higher education stakeholders.

The workshop created the dynamic platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue and an opportunity for sharing global best practices, provision of implementation support and the discussion of practical mechanisms to ensure sustainability of the project beyond its stipulated lifespan. It also provided the chance for collaborative regional knowledge sharing on all the thematic subject areas of the project, as well as to assess the results from the project’s mid-term review process.

ACE Impact is a World Bank initiative in collaboration with governments of 11 participating African countries to support higher education institutions specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Environment, Agriculture, applied Social Sciences / Education and Health. It is widely recognised as a critical and important project which is improving the capacity of Africa’s higher education institutions.

The 7th ACE Impact workshop started on a high note with an opening ceremony which featured key remarks from the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities – Prof. Olusola Oyewole; the Cotonou Director of the French Development Agency, Mr. Jerome Bertrand-Hardy, and the World Bank Country Manager, Mr. Atou Seck.

Formally opening the workshop, the Minister of Education for Benin, Madame Eleonore Yayi Ladekan spoke highly about the importance of the ACE Impact project to Africa’s higher education system and recognised the efforts of the project team and all participating centres and countries.  She highlighted various reforms launched by the Republic of Benin aimed at impacting all stakeholders in the education pipeline – right from the learners/students to the national level and final beneficiaries.  She further underscored the quality of interventions and key activities under the project – including internships, training of students, and innovative research which she said are all important in facilitating knowledge generation and usage, as well as ensuring that excellence transcends the functions of Africa’s Higher Education institution.

The 7th ACE Impact workshop has a diverse agenda and focus areas to be discussed at plenary, breakout sessions and performance clinics. The event also featured a special poster presentation session which created the platform for students to present their innovative research to the African higher education stakeholders present at the workshop.  Prior to the Workshop, the project began hosting Country Round Table sessions, which presented the opportunity for country specific discussions related to the mid-term review process. Again, the Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting was held on 13th June 2022, also in Cotonou, Benin.  The PSC is a high-level policy making committee comprised of representatives of African government from the 11 participating countries, the World Bank, French Development Agency and the Association of African Universities.

A press conference was also hosted just before the opening ceremony on June 14, creating the platform for the media to engage the key project team on critical issues in Africa’s Higher Education, for the information of the wider African populace.

Discussions for the remaining three days (June 15-17, 2022) focused on forging the way forward in relation to specific project priority areas including – Digital Transformation, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Gender and Development Impact among others.

 

Written By: Mrs. Felicia Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications Officer, AAU

The ACE Impact Project to hold its 7th Regional Workshop Physically

The Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) will have its 7th biannual Regional Workshop in Benin from June 13th to 17th, 2022.

The regional workshop is expected to bring together close to 500 participants, including the fifty-three (53) Centres of Excellence and key stakeholders, government representatives from participating countries, Vice Chancellors, representatives from the higher education sector, the private sector, policy think tanks, and the project’s partners, such as the World Bank, the French Development Agency, and the Association of African Universities.

The workshop will engage high-level discussions on ways in which higher education on the continent can be propelled, in addition to assessing  the project’s achievements so far.

During the pandemic, the project held two annual workshops virtually to adhere to global COVID regulations and guidelines. The upcoming 7th Biannual Regional Workshop will be the first physical meeting to be held by the ACE Impact project since the outbreak of COVID-19.

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