The National Universities Commission (NUC), last Monday kick-started the second stakeholders joint meetings of the African Centre of Excellence, ACE-Impact National Project Performance Review Committee (NPPRC) and Sustainable Procurement, Environmental, and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) Project Performance Review Committee (PPRC), held from the 22nd to the 23rd of May, 2023, at the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium of the Commission.

In his welcome address, the Executive Secretary, NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, who was represented by the Deputy Executive Secretary Administration, Mr. Chris Maiyaki, expressed his utmost delight for hosting another meeting to take stock of where the Second Africa Higher Education ACE Impact and (SPESSE Projects were, especially ahead of the upcoming regional workshop for the ACE Impact Project.

He said, a lot had happened since the last meeting which was held approximately six months back and with just last week another country roundtable with the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the World Bank, to discuss Nigeria’s progress on the ACE Impact Project was held, which recorded tremendous progress since the previous roundtable and the last round of verifications.

From a DLI achievement rate of 43%, fund utilisation rate of 21%, and disbursement rate of 40% presented during the last country roundtable of 7 November 2022, Professor Rasheed declared that the projects have gone to a 56% DLI achievement rate, 31% funds utilisation rate and, 42% disbursement rate which is very commendable.

He said it was thrilling to note that on all three counts, the projects have managed to stay above average and the figures had put the Commission at a vantage point to negotiate for a project extension, while also noting that the World Bank management was more disposed to conversations regarding these achievements.

The Executive Secretary further stated that despite the significant achievements, there were still some challenges with the implementation of the ACE Impact Project and a number of these were finance-related.

One of these challenges, he said, remained that since December 2022, the co-funding partners, the French Development Agency (AFD), had not been able to disburse their part of the funds due to high interest rate in Europe as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war.

This, he said, had in no small measure, slowed down the project implementation and contributed to Nigeria’s slow disbursement and funds utilisation rates on the Project.

He, however, informed the gathering that discussions are ongoing between the World Bank and AFD about the possibility of the Bank funding the ACE Impact Project one hundred per cent until an alternative arrangement was worked out, and then reconciling with the AFD once all issues surrounding disbursement are sorted out.

With regards to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), he noted that the turn-around times for payments and transactions have reduced significantly, even though there were some hiccups with the apex bank’s slow feedback rate on requests made.

According to Professor Rasheed, concerns were raised during the last review meeting, regarding the calendar proposed by Hcéres for the accreditation of programmes in some of the ACEs.

He informed the meeting that headway had been made with Hcéres and that plans are underway for the accreditation of 17 programmes in seven of the Centres.

“Other international accrediting bodies which some of the ACEs are working with for programme and/or institutional accreditation included the Royal Society of Biology (RSB), Agency for Quality Assurance through Accreditation of Study Programs (AQAS), Agency for Public Health Education Accreditation (APHEA) and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)”, he said.

On the SPESSE side, he explained that, while some level of progress had been made in project implementation, things were not looking as good as expected and this was largely because since the initial 20% DLI advance which was given to the SPESSCEs and the implementing agencies, no additional funds have been disbursed to the Centres even though they have completed one round of verification by the Independent Third-Party Verifiers (ITPV).

He added that as of today, the Centres are due for yet another round of verification, but this cannot be conducted until earnings from the previous round are disbursed.

“Another critical issue which requires urgent intervention is the certification portal which is to be developed by the implementation agencies. Unfortunately, although the ITPV has concluded the verification exercise for the IAs, the social standards, environmental standards and procurement nodes are not eligible to earn since none of them have been able to develop their certification portals”, the NUC Scribe said.

He further added that, other factors which have stalled the implementation of the SPESSE Project included delays in clearing the 2023 work plan and securing approval on the World Bank’s Systematic Tracking of Exchanges in Procurement (STEP) platform.

The ES NUC said, despite the setbacks on the SPESSE Project, some progress had been recorded since the last meeting, such as the conclusion of the resource verification exercise for Tracks C, D, and E courses.

Results were conveyed to the Centres and the programmes have been listed in the brochure of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), in line with the NUC’s tripartite relationship with JAMB and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the Corps had also been notified that these programmes have been cleared to run in the six universities.

He stated that the Commission had successfully deployed all IT and Learning Management Systems (LMS) devices in all six SPESSCEs and had conducted training for the Centre’s nominees on content creation and the use of Module and the LMS devices. Also various missions to the six SPESSCEs have been conducted  and presently, a training of trainers workshop is on-going for the Social Standards component of the project which would run till Friday the 26th of May, 2023, and would bridge identified gaps in courses to be offered under the Social Standards component.

While acknowledging that the projects are not yet where they are expected to be, the NUC Scribe noted some appreciable progress which he described as highly commendable, particularly with the ACE Impact. He prayed that the stakeholders would push forward conversations around project extension, considering that in the next few days, there would be a change of government and that, on its own, could result in some delays to the process.

He applauded the support of the Ministers and Permanent Secretaries of all the participating ministries, the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Vice-Chancellors of participating universities and commended the Task Team Leads, the co-TTLs, the subject matter experts, and the entire World Bank team for their role in the project implementation.

He also complimented the role of the Association of African Universities, (AAU), the commitment of the Centre Leaders and the Centres’ teams as well as the hard work of the NUC PIU.

The Special Project Coordinator, NUC Dr. Joshua Atah, in his remarks, called on Universities to ensure sustainability of the projects in their care through commercialisation of the products birthed by the projects. He said, since the projects were designed to be sustainable, universities must ensure they make some budgetary allocations available for the projects post closure, this would qualify them for any other opportunity that might arise in the future.

He gave the status reports of the Second Africa Higher Education ACE-Impact and SPESSE  Projects, the Independent Verification Agency(IVA), the Implementing Agencies (IAs), the Independent Facilitation Unit (INFU) at NUC and the Centres of Excellence (CEs).

He further gave a comprehensive report on the way forward for the next six months when the next joint meeting will hold. He said the joint meeting will be the 3rd NPPRC for ACE Impact and the 2nd NPRC for SPESSE project, but the second joint meeting.

He intimated members present of the next steps for the ACE Impact NUC-PIU and agreed action from the last NPPRC meeting (SPESSE) which had been captured in the 2023 work plan already sent to the World Bank for approval.

Some of the challenges encountered along the way, he noted included: delay in the approval of the annual work-plan and budget, disbursement of funds of earned results, items on STEP, impasse on the nomenclature of undergraduate programmes as well as delay in verifying earned results among others.

Also among the recommendations made by the stakeholders in their reports include: collaboration between ACEs, between the SPESSECEs and across ACEs and SPESSECES, the ACE Centres can train their procurement officers in any of the SPESSECEs and also Environmental and Social Standard officers, also universities with both ACE & SPESSE should maximize the opportunity that can be derived from both projects e.g. investments in LMS, LMS Devices; internet connection, staff training, renovation of classrooms etc.

In his very brief remarks, the African Development Bank (ADB) representative at the meeting, Mr. Kelechi Oradiaka said the bank was following closely the implementation of the ACE impact project and expressed optimism on witnessing the end result of the project which it was collaborating with the Commission and World Bank to achieve.

He added that ADB is in collaboration with agricultural training centres and state colleges of agriculture to improve skills, working conditions and the impact the lives of young Nigerian farmers.

Other projects the bank supports are to improve on professional training and make huge impact in the power sector in the country.

The allied project is mainly to improve the employability of young Nigerians to enhance the country’s entrepreneurship infrastructure.

He underscored the impact of AfD in the aspect of higher education, where it seeks to ensure sustainable students’ housing projects to aid in financing students Housing Schemes that would make life easier while they study.

Mr. Kelechi added that the bank aids in making flexible monetary policies on environmental guidelines for students hostels, sustainable designs and buildings and students housing management guidelines on services, security and gender issues.

Presentation were made by the seventeen (17) ACE Impact Centres.

In his presentation, Centre Coordinator for Public Health and Toxicology Research (ACEPUTOR) of the University of Port-Harcourt, Professor Daprim Ogaji, said that emphasis is on collaboration and inter-disciplinary research, while training have been organized with the centre’s graduating its first set of PhDs very soon.

He said that the curriculum is flexible, modular, intensive and premised on developing the knowledge, skills and competences of students from diverse academic backgrounds to becoming industry ready professionals.

He enumerated the challenges to include, delay in releasing of funds, delayed approval of revised DLR7.5 and uncertainty around extra funding.

Redeemers University Coordinator  on Centre of Excellence in Genomics Infectious Disease (ACEGID), Dr. Onikepe Folarin, reported that the ACEGID Genomics Bootcamp is the 7th edition and had trained 135 participants from Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Bangladesh over the first six iterations.

She said that they have seven research publications on infectious diseases and signed contracts and attracted more funding. She also revealed the challenges being faced to include; enrollment of female students, internship is a problem because they are yet to identify a centre for genomics training. The future direction is sustaining the centre and to also attract more funding.

The Coordinator of African Centre of Excellence in  Engineering Education (ACENPEE) in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria,  Professor Raymond Bako said that enrollment of students for Masters and PhD is on-going, while they have submitted publications for approval, about 13 class rooms had been renovated with approval received for  all the new buildings at the Centre and most of the students had been placed on internship.

He argued that ACENPEE is focused on enhancing engineering education by experimenting with new teaching methods, developing curricula, assessing how students learn and moving those findings into the classrooms of tomorrow’s engineers.

He said that the challenges encountered included: low generation of revenue especially external revenue, slow process of accreditation, publication in engineering remained a problem and the inability to secure funds for procurement.

He said that the next step is to get students from regional countries, intensify capacity building for staff and get internship for students.

Other Centres made similar presentations, these included: Centre for Oil Field Chemical Research (ACECEFOR), University of Port-Harcourt; African Centre of Excellence for Drug Research Herbal Medicine Development and Regulatory Science (ACEDHARS)University of Lagos; African Centre of Excellence for Future Energy and Electrochemicals Systems (ACEFUELS) Federal University of Technology, Owerri; African Centre of Excellence for Innovative and Transformative Education (ACEITSE), Lagos State University; African Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety (ACEMFS), Federal University of Technology, Minna; Neglected Tropical Disease and Forensic Biotechnology (ACENTDFB) Ahmadu Bello University; Africa  Centre of Excellence for Technology Enhanced learning (ACETEL) National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and Africa  Centre of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP) Bayero University Kano, .

Others are: Africa  Centre of Excellence in Food Technology and Research (ACE-CEFTER), Benue State University; Centre of Excellence in Reproductive Health Innovation (CEHRI) University of Benin;  Knowledge Driven Park Obafemi Awolowo University; Sustainable Power and Energy Development (ACESPED), University of Nigeria Nsukka; Centre of Excellence for Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University Kano,  as well as Covenant Applied Informatics and Communication African Centre of Excellence. (CAPIC – ACE) Covenant University, Ota.

Reports of achievements, challenges and next steps agenad were also received from the six SPESSE Co-coordinators from the following Universities: Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi; University of Benin;  Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria;  Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi and University of Lagos.

Other highlights at the joint meeting were the consideration of minutes of the last NPPRC meeting, matters arising from the minutes of the last NPPRC meeting and feedback, questions and answers session.

Among the attendees at the meeting were the Vice Chancellors, University of Lagos, Professor Folasade Ogunsola and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State, Professor Muhammad A. Abdulazeez.