The Acting Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) Mr. Christopher J. Maiyaki has expressed satisfaction with the tremendous progress made on the implementation of the African Centre of Excellence (ACE-Impact) and Sustainable Procurement, Environmental and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) Projects by the various Centres domiciled in Nigerian Universities.

He stated this during the third-joint National Project Performance Review Committee(NPPRC) meeting on the ACE- Impact and SPESSE Projects, held at the NUC Secretariat, Abuja.

Giving an account of SPESSE, Mr. Maiyaki noted with pride that despite long delay, the  Centres have been issued disbursement letters by the World Bank (WB), for results achieved and verified, after the first round of verification spanning the period of January to June 2022.

He also disclosed that the report for the second round of verification, covering two cycles-July to December 2022 and January to June 2023, was almost ready for submission to the Bank.

He particularly expressed excitement that the SPESSCEs had continued to graduate Students from Tracks A (executive short courses) and B (advanced certificate courses) under the three components, while admissions had commenced into Track C (Postgraduate diploma), D (Masters), and F (Bachelors) Programmes.

The Acting Executive Secretary stated that, while some centres had already commenced lectures for both Tracks D and E, few others would commence lectures for the bachelors component next year.

He added that plans were underway in a significant number of the Centres to commence PhD Programmes, even though these were not covered under the project.

He said through this approach, the Programme was expected to produce the teachers of the future, for the sustainability of the project beyond project closure. 

Mr. Maiyaki also noted that this would ensure over time, the availability of a critical mass of Professors in Procurement, Environmental Standards and Social Standards from the Centres of Excellence (CoEx).

The Ag. ES said that a major concern on the SPESSE project during the last meeting was the delay in the deployment of the certification portal by the Implementing Agencies (Ias), Bureau of Public procurement (BPP), Federal Ministry of Women Affairs (FMWA) and the Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv).

He explained that as at date,  there had been further improvement with  the procurement process for the portal reaching an advanced stage.

He said the progress and  success story must be ascribed to the continued commitment of the World Bank’s SPESSE teams from the IAs as well as the Procurement and IT Consultants.

Mr. Maiyaki listed  the major achievements of the SPESSE Centres to include: timely submission of Interim Financial Reports (IFRS) for the first quarters of this year, and the submission of audited reports ahead of the 30 June 2023 deadline.

He disclosed that  as the mid- term review for the SPESSE Project inch closer, scheduled tentatively to hold from 13th-30th November, 2023, there would likely be conversations around project extension, with the level of significant progress recorded.

He said with ACE- Impact, the project had continued to stay above average with a Disbursement Link Indicator (DLI) achievement rate of 56% and disbursement rate of 42% and a 31% funds utilization rate.

These figures, he said, was projected to improve as soon as relevant data were collected and results also updated ahead of the 10th ACE-Impact Regional Workshop, scheduled to hold in October/November 2023.

The Acting Executive Secretary emphasized that in a bid to secure global recognition for their academic Programme,  the host universities, the ACE- Impact Centres must continue to work with internationally acclaimed accreditation bodies, such as the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES) in France; the Royal Society of Biology (RSB) in the UK; the Agency for Quality Assurance through Accreditation of Study Programme (AQAS) in Germany; the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in the United Kingdom (UK) and the Agency for Public Health Education Accreditation (APHEA) in Belgium.

He stated that the engagements with these agencies have reached advanced stages, with some of the ACEs securing full international accreditation for their programmes.

He informed the Centre Leaders that as part of the current meeting, there was a schedule to review and clear the 2024 work and procurement plans for the six SPESSE Centres, the IAs and the NUC Project Implementation Unit (NUC-PIU) for onward submission to the WB.

Mr. Maiyaki expressed optimism that this time around, there would be no delay in securing a “No objection” from the World Bank.  That way, he said, all would  hit the ground running, once the New Year begins.

The Ag. ES said all the stakeholders must remain adaptable and ready to respond swiftly to the emerging trends and challenges and being cognizant of the dynamic nature of the education landscape.

He expressed  immense confidence in the capabilities of the various (ACE&SPESSE) teams and hoped that the insight and feedback from the review meeting would propel the project forward, aiming not just to meet only development objectives (PDOs) but surpass them.

The World Bank Project Coordinator, Dr. Joshua Atah,  gave a status report of the achievements, challenges and the next step to be taken.

Dr. Atah stated that the achievements included the signing of agreement between NUC and HCERES on international accreditation of 18 programmes in seven ACE-Impact Centres; Supporting the Centres on fund disbursement; NUC’s conclusion of the 2022 procurement activities for which report had been submitted to WB; sensitization workshop, with online training, capacity building as well as two days workshop on Externally Generated Revenue which had been scheduled for 10th &11th October, 2023.

Others were the hosting of the Gambia Ministers of Education and Permanent Secretary of the Gambian Ministry of Education; Audited account for all the Centres and submitted to the world Bank; Activating all the inactive bank account statements,  except for the University of Benin (UNIBEN); deployment of the SPESSE Measurement & Evaluation Portals for updates from the CEs and cumulative disbursement computation from July 2022 to June 2023, after round 2 display.

He outlined the challenges to include; delays in processing payment, delay in completing ACE-Impact restricting, delay in payment of African Development Bank (AFDB) contribution between 2022 and 2023, lack of uniformity in the academic calendar across the Centres, non-listing of Social Standards for Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) in JAMB Caps and the unstable exchange rates and its impact on costs of goods and services.

He said, for the next steps, they were going to seek for partnership and collaborations in the area of  staff and students among Nigerian universities in teaching, learning and research, through online and onsite methods, organize workshops on grievance mechanism, production of quarterly project magazine, monitoring and supervision of the Centres, organize users to access repositories and link them across multiple identity management system in order to efficiently and securely access multiple applications and finally to implement the  cleared 2023 SPESSE work plan and plan towards 2024.

Other highlights were the presentations of the summary of their activities by the six SPESSE Centre leaders since the last meeting that was held in May 2023 to September 2023.

At the meeting were: University Vice Chancellors; Centre Leaders of ACE and SPESSE; Representatives of the Permanent Secretaries of Federal Ministries  of Finance; Environment; Women Affairs; Power, Health, Innovation, Science and Technology as well as the Director-General,  Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).