Stakeholders in the World Bank-sponsored result-based African Centres of Excellence (ACE) project after reviewing the progress of the ACE I, during the Regional Workshop held recently in Abuja, had in a common voice said that African higher education institutions have good stories to tell, thus proofing that with the right atmosphere and attitude, Africans could solve their own problems.
The 12th (ACE I) and 3rd ACE for Development Impact, Regional Workshop, which signaled the end of ACE I (winding down this March 2020) and the commencement of the ACE for Development Impact, recorded some outstanding successes across the host universities of the West and Central African countries that participated in the ACE 1 Project.
Some of these successes include the outstanding contribution of one of the centres in Nigeria, the ACE in Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) at the Redeemers University, Ede, which played a major role in the containment of the spread of the Ebola Virus in Nigeria in 2014.
With the ACE in Phytomedicine Research and Development (ACEPRD) at the University of Jos breaking grounds in the development of World’s First Plant-Based Anti-Snake Venom Vaccine and set for Clinical Theory, the Pharmaceutical industry would soon begin the production of new products in this field.
Across the regional levels, the ACEs recorded feats in the areas of enrollment of national and regional students at the Masters and PhD levels, participation of students in impactful internships, high Masters and PhD graduate output, student participation in the short courses, publications in internationally acclaimed journals, increase in externally generated revenue, partnerships and collaborations as well as achievement of national and international accreditation of programmes.
Meanwhile by stroke of fate, the National Universities Commission (NUC), at the instance of the Government of Nigeria, where the project was officially launched in November 2014, had the privilege of playing host to the Regional Workshop, where searchlight was beamed on the performance of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as well as the Agriculture and Health priority projects across board in all the regional universities that won the ACE I.
In his address, the Honourable Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, whose speech was read by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Arch. Sonny Echono, recalled that the project was launched with the broad objective of producing a critical mass of professionals, at the Masters and PhD levels, to meet the labour market demands for skills within specified areas where there were skill shortages affecting development, economic growth and poverty reduction.
The Minister expressed his elation that Nigerian ACEs, in particular, where able to a large extent meet the Disbursement Link Results (DLRs), which measured the performance of the ACEs against set targets as well as the fact that the project encouraged internationalisation of higher education in Africa, with the enthronement of regional students in the various Centres of Excellence. .
He commended all the stakeholders for their painstaking efforts and commitment in seeing that the project was carried out successfully ranging from the World Bank, Association of African Universities (AAU) and other facilitators of the project, all the representatives of the participating countries, who are also members of the Project Steering Committee (PSC) as well as the ACEs in the region, their Vice-Chancellors as well as the NUC, as the host institution, on behalf of Nigerian ACEs. He noted that the government of Nigeria allowed all Nigerian universities, irrespective of proprietorship to enlist in the ACE Project since they also supply human resources required in the labour market. According to him, it showed that excellence was the top priority of the government, especially with the reports of the outcome justifying that decision in the case of Redeemers University. He applauded the entire ACE 1 institutions for their contributions towards the development of Africa’s higher education as well as tackling the challenges facing the region, in the area of healthcare.
The HMSE also drew the attention of the ACEs to the current case of Coronavirus codenamed (COVID-19), a killer disease and virus threatening the world, expressing confidence that ACEGID team would be equal to the task and rise up to the situation as it did with the Ebola virus. He stressed that this was what the ACE Project represented, which is addressing common regional challenges and strengthening institutional capacities to deliver high quality training and applied research.
Hon. Nwajiuba acknowledged that the ACE Impact was initiated to leverage on the successes recorded in ACE 1, noting that the objective was to improve the quality, quantity and development impact of postgraduate education through regional specialisation and collaboration. He stated that the Federal Government had through the ACE experience revolutionised higher education in terms of research and postgraduate training and also hoped to adopt the result-based approach and the Disbursement Link Indicator methods of the ACE Project to reward excellence in the Nigerian University System (NUS).
He also said that the government, through the Ministry of Education would continue to work hard to ensure the sustainability of the project beyond its life cycle, as it intend to build synergies with various funding agencies such as the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) among others.
Welcoming participants, the Chairman, ACE National Project Performance Review Committee (NPPRC) and Executive Secretary, NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, noted with pride that all the host universities in Nigeria had in the last five years recorded tremendous achievements.
He listed them to include: enrolment of regional students from West and Central African countries into the Nigerian University System, for the first time in more than two decades; ACE project’s contribution to the production of high-level skilled manpower in specialized areas; encouragement of interdisciplinary research in the NUS as well as institutional and private sector collaborations at national and international levels.
Others were the spearheading of Redeemers University, Ede, to the containment of the Ebola Virus outbreak in 2014 and subsequent development of a 10-minute testing kit for both the Ebola and Lassa Fever viruses; the anti-snake venom vaccine known as COVIP-Plus, among others. He noted that NUC was in the process of setting up a team that would document all the achievements of ACE 1 and make appropriate recommendations to Government on sustaining the gains of the project.
The NUC scribe noted that despite the strings of successes, there were some challenges in the case of Nigeria such as late commencement of the project, hiccups in project implementation due to the enforcement of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in 2015, with the associated delay in processing payments, security challenges, strikes and irregular academic calendar, amongst others.
Prof. Rasheed said that ACEs in other regions faced their own peculiar challenges too including language barriers, but noted that regardless of this, they were able to overcome and since then had never looked back, stressing that the lessons learnt had placed them in a better position for the ACE Impact and other projects.
The NUC scribe stated that the ACE Impact was initiated with the objective of further improving the quality, quantity and development impact of postgraduate education (defined to include Masters and PhD degrees as well as short-term professional courses and training) in selected universities, through regional specialisation and collaboration.
He said that the ACE PSC and the various NPPRCs have worked together with all the ACEs in the past five years, learning in the process and supporting one another in an effort to achieve their common goals, adding that all the centres would continue to support one another and work harmoniuosly towards the success of the ACE Impact Project.
He used the opportunity to thank the HMSE and other Ministers of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the World Bank and the AAU for the brilliant support to Higher Education in Africa.
In her remarks, the World Bank Task Team Leader for the ACE Project, Aisha Garba Mohammed stated that the ACE institutions had done excellently well as they were able to draw from the combined commitment of the Bank, a total of 550million dollars. According to her the bank was proud to note that majority of the ACEs made some impressive impact in the use of the funds, reminding them that the project in no way belonged to the financial institution but that of the universities and their countries.
At the technical sessions, the Workshop witnessed so many breakouts and parallel group discussions that centred on issues of the management of the ACEs by the Various Centre leaders, Procurement Practice, Funding Disbursement and Utilisation, Measurement and Evaluation, Project Management Challenges and Feedback on the Disbursements Link Results and DLIs.
The ACE 1 involved countries like, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.
Some of the countries as new entrants into the ACE Development for Impact Project in the West and Central African region include, Niger, Djibouti, and Guinea.
Among the resolution at the Week long meeting was that those that achieved exceptional feats and got additional World Bank commitment to qualify as beneficiaries of the ACE for Development Impact would continue to enjoy monetary interventions in the programme.
The meeting was preceded by a meeting of the Project Steering Committee PSC of the countries in the West and Central Africa, an Enlarged meeting with the French Agency for Development AFD and meeting of NPPRCs of the different countries.
At the meeting were Vice-Chancellors of the ACE participating universities, their Centre and Deputy Centre leaders and other Focal Officers involved in the ACE Projects.