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WB Launches Eight Higher Education Centres of Excellence

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The US$140 million project will help raise quality and relevance of the region’s post-graduate education in five priority sectors

The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project (ACE II) – which seeks to strengthen 24 competitively selected centres to deliver quality, market-relevant post-graduate education in Eastern and Southern Africa – was launched in Nairobi by the Inter University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) and the World Bank.

The five-year project will work to build collaborative research capacity in five regional priority areas: industry (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), agriculture, health, education and applied statistics.  The $140 million project is financed by the World Bank in form of credit to eight participating countries. These include Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. IUCEA, an East African Community institution responsible for coordinating the development of higher education will facilitate and coordinate the project.

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Hon. Fred Matiangi, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, in his remarks to the participating country delegates, thanked the World Bank for its support for the education sector. He also called on all governments to end bureaucratic delays that slow project implementation. “We don’t get any useful results from being bureaucratic. Governments should not be a hurdle; they should be a facilitating entity.”

Dr. Sajitha Bashir, World Bank’s Practice Manager for its Education Global Practice, said that the Bank sees this as a broader effort to build technical and scientific capability for Africa’s socio-economic transformation. “Without these highly specialized professional skills and without that critical mass, we don’t think that Africa can transform itself,” she said.

Over the project’s duration of five years, the selected ACEs are expected to enrol more than 3,500 graduate students in the regional development priority areas, out of which at least 700 would be PhD students and more than 1,000 would be female. It also plans to facilitate publication of at least 1,500 journal articles, launch more than 300 research collaborations with the private sector and other institutions, and generate about US$30 million in external revenue.

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Prof Colletta Suda, Principal Secretary, Higher Education, Kenya, noted the great need for training in science and technology in the region, which currently lags behind in generating sufficient graduates in these fields.

“We have a shortage of graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction, which translates to fewer skilled professionals with specialized knowledge in areas like oil and gas, energy and railways industries,” she said. “The scale of the need for highly skilled and specialized labour in the region is so large that it is unsustainable to send most of our post-postgraduate students abroad for training.”

Suda added that it makes sense to pool the Eastern and Southern Africa region’s existing human and financial resources into a few specialized centres that would have the explicit mandate of offering quality education and relevant research to serve the entire region’s needs.

All centres of excellence (ACEs) were selected through an objective, transparent and merit-based process. Out of the 92 eligible proposals submitted, 24 were selected from universities across the eight participating countries. Each ACE will receive US$4.5 – $6m to implement its own proposal.

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 specialized fields, capable of leading efforts to address priority development challenges and improve lives in the region.

IUCEA, the ACE II regional facilitation unit, will provide forums for the private sector and ACEs to share knowledge on collaborative research ideas. It will also supervise a competitive scholarship program in which 30 regional students in STEM will be financed for two years to attain a Master’s degree in any of the ACEs.

Prof Alexandre Lyambabaje, Executive Secretary of IUCEA said the institute values this new partnership with governments in the region. “We value this new partnership to improve the quality of training and research in higher education, and reduce the skill gaps in key development priority areas.”

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