For years, the World Bank has been supporting basic education instead of university learning, following a proposal that it was important to the third world.
However, that thinking changed last year, following a meeting in Zimbabwe in 2016, at which university dons explained the significance of higher education on development in the third world.
So, last week, the World Bank formally unveiled plans to support the development of 24 Africa Centres of Excellence (ACEs) spread in the eight countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The project’s objective is to strengthen the selected ACEs to deliver quality post-graduate education and build collaborative research capacity in the regional priority areas of industry, agriculture, health, education and applied statistics.
Launching Uganda’s four ACEs, education minister Janet Museveni said she was happy to see universities embark on projects that address real-life challenges.
“Universities were not meant to be unreachable, talking to themselves, but to lead communities to find their own solutions,” she said. “It is a liberating day for my spirit to see our universities talk about projects that are addressing issues that deal with our everyday life.”
The four centres are part of the Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE II) project, an initiative of participating African governments and the World Bank. She also hoped that the investment at higher education would have far-reaching implications.
“This intervention in higher education worth $24 million, which is approximately Shs 87bn, is indeed a worthy investment and, as a country, we salute the partnership of the World Bank.”
The ACEs are aimed at strengthening the institutional capacity of selected higher education institutions to deliver quality post-graduate education and building collaborative research capacity in the regional priority areas. that are also in line with national priorities as identified in the National Development Plan II, as well as Uganda’s Vision 2040.
The secretariat received 19 proposals from Ugandan institutions of higher learning, for support, in what was seen as an open, transparent, and merit-based competitive process. Some 24 centres were identified for support, and only four are from Uganda.
Makerere University is hosting two ACEs. The Centre for Materials, Product Development & Nanotechnology (MAPRONANO) will strengthen research and training in materials science and engineering, nanotechnology and nanomedicine in order to develop human resource capacity in applied science engineering disciplines.
The second ACE at Makerere is called the Makerere University Regional Centre for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI) hosted at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), which will focus on delivery of better crop varieties.
A third centre is at Mbarara University of Science and Technology – the Pharm-Biotechnology & Traditional Medicine Centre (PHARMBIOTRAC), which will train and raise a critical mass of specialized and skilled human capital that can use a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach to advance traditional medicine and pharmaceutical biotechnology.
The fourth centre is hosted at Uganda Martyrs University. African Center of Excellence in Agroecology and Livelihood Systems (ACALISE). This is tasked with providing training, research and community engagement for development in Agroecology, food systems, value chains and sustainable livelihoods for balanced development in the region.
The minister urged the winning ACEs to add value to learning outcomes in the country.
“The importance of hands-on learning and university-industry cooperation as one of the most important mechanisms for practical application of science and technology should be emphasized,” she said.
The centres will do research through graduate training in master’s, PhD, and short-term courses and applied research in form of partnerships and collaborations with other institutions and with the private sector.
On his part, the education ministry’s permanent secretary, Alex Kakooza, pledged to ensure that the project achieves its objectives and becomes a model for others.
He also explained that the World Bank board had approved the ACE project in May 2016, before launching it in October 26, 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. The condition for the loan to be effective was for each government to approve the loan, which Uganda achieved in July 2017. He challenged the ACEs to ensure timely delivery of innovations.
The $140million project is financed by the World Bank through credit line to the eight participating countries. The project will close in December 2022.
Phase One of this initiative (ACE I) is ongoing in West and Central Africa, having started in 2013 with 22 ACEs in eight countries.
The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), an institution of the East African Community responsible for coordinating higher education and research, is the regional facilitation unit for the project.
Speaking at the launch, the IUCEA deputy executive secretary, Prof Mike Kuria, called on the vice chancellors to spread the fruits of the research to all programmes within their universities
“The centres of excellence must not become islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. The centres should become pacesetters for other programmes, departments, schools and institutes,” he said.
“Excellence must not be limited only to the sciences, but must be applicable to the arts, humanities and social sciences. We need every one of us to be excellent in what we do for the good of our region.”