The life-threatening nature of the COVID19 pandemic has been felt globally – its influence on global education systems is also being felt in Africa. Activities in African higher education institutions (HEIs) were suspended by various governments in order to contain the spread of the virus. Many of these institutions are host universities of the Africa Centers of Excellence for Development Impact project (ACE Impact) and as a result, activities of these Centers were slowed down. However, as part of their objectives to address regional developmental challenges, the ACE Impact Centers initiated measures to support the containment and management of the virus in all 11 participating countries within the West African sub region.
What is an Africa Center of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE for Impact Center)
These are largely competitively selected faculties, schools or colleges within an African University. The ACE Impact Centers focus on STEM, Agriculture, Environment, Health and applied Social Sciences / Education thematic areas. As part of the ACE for Development Impact project they are mandated to deliver quality undergraduate and post-graduate programs, promote regional academic mobility, address national and regional problems through research and promote best practices to their entire university systems.
Challenges faced by the ACEs for Development Impact Centers
The Association of African Universities, which is the Regional Facilitation Unit for the ACE Impact project, in collaboration with the World Bank conducted a survey to understand steps taken by the ACE for Impact Centers in addressing the pandemic to ensure continuous teaching and learning. Subsequently, a virtual meeting was held with the Centers to validate information collected through the survey. The survey results indicated challenges faced by the Centers and they pertain to infrastructure ; skills ; e-Platforms; limited time to plan and implement alternative solutions; limited commitment of staff and students to online learning; funding challenges and infection risks.
A review of how the ACE for Development Impact Centers in West Africa are responding to COVID19
Even though the ACE Impact Centers are facing numerous challenges, they are still contributing their quota in helping countries within the West African sub-region manage the crisis. The Centers have so far responded to the COVID19 pandemic by using technology for teaching, learning and research; engaging in innovative and groundbreaking research activities and participating in community outreach activities and services.
- Notably, there has been groundbreaking research going on in different centers to provide immediate solutions that can support the management of the pandemic. The researches have so far led to the sequencing of the virus, abilities to carry out massive testing and online screening of individuals’ risk levels, among others.
- In line with the ACE for development impact project objective to contribute to regional development through applied research, the centers are doing research to address societal needs. These efforts have included the production of personal protection equipment such as face shields through 3D printing, manufacturing of ventilators, production of nose masks, production of alcoholic gels and hand sanitizers and manufacturing of hand washing equipment for communities in their respective countries.
- Several Centers have also created mathematical models to help assess and predict the spread of the virus and the possibility of confinement in certain cities.
These initiatives are all key towards preventing the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
About the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project
The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) Project is a World Bank initiative in collaboration with governments of participating countries to support Higher Education institutions in specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Environment, Agriculture, applied Social Science / Education and Health. It is the first World Bank project aimed at the capacity building of higher education institutions in Africa. The first phase (ACE I) was launched in 2014 with 22 Centers of Excellence in nine (9) West and Central African countries; Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. The Project aims to promote regional specialization among participating universities in areas that address specific common regional development challenges. It also aims to strengthen the capacities of these universities to deliver high quality training and applied research as well as meet the demand for skills required for Africa’s development. The second phase (ACE II) was launched in East and Southern Africa with 24 centers across Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Based on the initial successes, the World Bank and the French Development Agency (AFD) in collaboration with the African governments, launched the ACE Impact Project in 2018 to strengthen post-graduate training and applied research in existing fields and support new fields that are essential for Africa’s economic growth. There are 43 ACEs (25 new ones and 18 from ACE I); 5 Emerging Centers;1 “top up” center in Social Risk Management; and 5 Colleges and Schools of Engineering. The new areas include sustainable cities; sustainable power and energy; social sciences and education; transport; population health and policy; herbal medicine development and regulatory sciences; public health; applied informatics and communication; and pastoral production.