The World Bank board has approved a mega project meant to strengthen selected higher education institutions in eastern and southern Africa to deliver quality postgraduate education and build collaborative research capacity in priority areas.
The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project (ACE II), expected to close in October 2021, will see each of the 24 Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) funded to a tune of $6 million over the project period of five years.
“This is a very important project for our region as many parents, employers and students alike have often complained about the quality of education. It comes to significantly enhance the quality of education in the sub region,” Prof Alexandre Lyambabaje, the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) executive secretary, told Sunday Times yesterday.
“Even economically, it will have a huge impact. As you very well know, many parents or families continue to spend lots of monies sending their children abroad to get quality education,” he added.
The Uganda-based IUCEA, an East African Community (EAC) institution responsible for coordinating the development of higher education and research, is the regional facilitation unit for the ACE II project.
Selected ACEs are expected to address specific development challenges facing the region through graduate training in master’s, PhD, short-term courses and applied research in the form of partnerships and collaborations with other institutions and the private sector.
The selected ACEs will be financed by eight participating countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – which are committing $140 million, and credit from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank Group.
Burundi is part of these countries as a beneficiary, Prof Lyambabaje explained, but not as a host of a centre of excellence.
By the time the project started, between June-July last year, Prof Lyambabaje explained, Burundi did not have any PhD programme and as such, was not eligible to host a centre of excellence.
“Negotiations formally started around June last year. Universities were requested to submit applications to host ACEs. It took us time to select 24 out of the 113 universities in the region,” he said.
The ACEs were selected through an open, merit-based competitive process based on criteria that included a proposal that addressed a specific challenge in one of the five priority areas in the region – industry, agriculture, health, education and applied statistics, among others.
They are expected to: build institutional capacity to provide quality post-graduate education with relevance to the labour market and to conduct high quality applied research relevant to addressing a key development challenge or priority.
The centres are also expected to develop and enhance partnerships with the private sector to generate a greater impact, improve governance and management of the institution and set up a role model for other higher education institutions.
Over the project duration, ACEs are expected to, collectively, enroll more than 3,500 graduate students in the regional development priority areas, out of whom more than 700 will be PhD students and more than 1,000 female students.
They are also expected to launch more than 300 research collaborations with the private sector and other institutions, and generate almost $30 million in external revenue, among others.
The IUCEA will, among other things, provide overall coordination, facilitation and administration to the project implementation under the oversight of the RSC.
The IUCEA will also provide fora for industry-academic engagement for ACEs to share knowledge on collaborative research ideas and supervise a competitive scholarship programme in which 30 regional students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be financed for two years to attain a master’s degree in any of the ACEs.
An IDA grant of $8 million will finance these activities.
It is envisaged that at the end of the project the centres will have developed sufficient capacity to become sustainable regional hubs for training and research in their specialised fields, capable of leading efforts to address priority development challenges and improve lives in the region.
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