The World Bank says it has spent more than 580 million dollars (210 billion naira) in implementing the three phases of its Africa Centre of Excellence (ACE) projects across 22 centres in West and Central African countries.
Mrs Ekua Benti, Education and Capacity Specialist of the World Bank disclosed this at the 16th African Higher Education Centre of Excellence workshop in Abuja on Tuesday.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ACE Project was inaugurated in 2013 to promote regional specialisation among universities in the participating countries within the West and Central African sub-regions.
The project is aimed at addressing common regional development challenges and strengthening capacities to deliver high quality training and applied research.
The scope has however been widened to accommodate 54 ACEs hosted in 22 centres across 12 countries, which include Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Cote d’ivoire, Djibouti, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Senegal, Togo, and Nigeria.
Benti said that the ACE project focused mostly on masters and PhD students with some support for undergraduate students for specific centres.
She added: “We are ensuring that there is quality in education, quality faculties in terms of facilities and quality in the nature of research that is being done in African universities through the established Africa Centres of Excellence, ACE.
“This ACE project focuses purely on equipping Masters and PhD students with some support for undergraduate students for specific centres.
The Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE1) Project was launched in 2013 to promote regional specialisation amongst Universities in the participating countries within the West and Central African sub-regions, to address common regional development challenges and strengthen their capacities to deliver high-quality training and applied research.
The official said further that there were three different phases of ACE, with Ace 1 being for West and Central Africa. The phase which began in 2014 will end in March 2020.
“We have ACE 2 for East and Southern Africa which started in 2016 and the third phase was launched in 2019.
“Overall, we have spent more than 580 million dollars (210 billion Naira),” she said.
The specialist added that such amount was spent because “World Bank sees human development as a key thing for Africa’s sustenance.”
She disclosed that the bank envisaged that by 2030 there would be a massive increase in the population of youths and that if strategies were not mapped out on how to handle the situation via investment in human capital, Africa would end up suffering in the end.
“We are investing to make sure there is quality in education, quality faculty, quality in terms of the facilities the student have and quality in the research that is being done in African universities.
“When we started we had challenges but the centres have been very committed and we have seen a lot of results in terms of them using the money for good facilities and in terms of the research.
“One of the centres at the Redeemer’s University was able to develop a tool for identifying and diagnosing Ebola virus which helped Nigeria,’’ she said.
Benti added that research done in those universities should have global application.
She, therefore, stressed that researches done should have impact development and should also focus on sexual harassment policy while also bringing in more female students into the project.
On the first phase of the project, she said out of the 22 Africa Centres of Excellence in the West and Central Africa in the first phase of the ACE Project, 10 were domiciled in Nigeria across 10 Federal, State and Private Universities with the main focus of promoting research and technology development.
The remaining eight were hosted by Universities in Burkina Faso, Republic of Benin, Ghana, Cameroun, Togo and Senegal.
Further identifying the essence of the Centres in the region, Ekua says the World Bank is ensuring that the centres have a sexual harassment policy for female students across institutions in Africa.
Meanwhile, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), said that the project was aimed at addressing common regional development challenges and strengthening their capacities to deliver high quality training and applied research.
Rasheed added that the broad objective of the project was to meet the labour market demands for skills within specific areas where there were skill gaps affecting development, economic growth, and poverty reduction.
He said that the ACE 1 Project in Nigeria had recorded a number of successes in the past five years.
He listed some of the successes as enrollment of regional students from West and Central African countries into the Nigerian University System and development of the anti-snake venom vaccine known as COVIP-Plus.
According to him, by March when ACE 1 will end, the commission will set up a team to document all the achievements of ACE 1 and make recommendations to the government on sustaining the gains of the project.
The executive secretary, therefore, called on stakeholders to consolidate on the gains of ACE 1 in the Impact Project Workshop by improving the quality, quantity, and development impact of postgraduate education.
He commended the World Bank and the Association of African Universities (AAU) for the support accorded to Higher Education in Africa.
Mr Sonny Echono, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education said that the project had continued to encourage the internalisation of students in the country with the enrolment of regional students.
Echono said that the Federal Government had allowed all Nigerian universities to participate in the ACE projects which shows that the present administration is key to the development of research in the country.
He expressed confidence that the ten ACE centres in the country were capable of combating and containing the further spread of the coronavirus.