The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, has disclosed that all was set for the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) Impact and Sustainable Procurement Environmental and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) projects, to be accredited and resource verified following the support of the NUC Management to fast-track these processes for all new programmes mounted by the Centers.

He made the disclosure last Tuesday, when the Commission hosted Vice Chancellors of the fourteen universities and their center leaders to discuss the implementation arrangements for the ACE Impact project.

Prof. Rasheed stressed that this would enable the Centres pursue International Accreditation for their programmes, adding that National and international programme and institutional accreditations were some of the Disbursements-Linked Results (DLRs) with substantial monetary rewards, and “NUC is willing to assist you in achieving the results and earning the due amounts,” he said. 

He admonished them to adhere to the project guidelines as it was key to achieving the overall objectives of the ACE Impact project.

He said: “With our experience in the first phase of the ACE project, we must endeavour to abide by the procurement, financial management, governance structure, and all other guidelines of the Project.

“We must ensure that there is transparency and accountability in implementing the Project. “We have received requests from EFCC and ICPC for information on past activities of some of our ACE1 Centers. I, therefore, urge us to be transparent in our activities, keep accurate records and be professional in our conduct,” he added.

The Executive Secretary also informed participants at the meeting that similar meeting with the Vice-Chancellors and Centre Leaders on implementation arrangements for another World Bank-funded project, the Sustainable Procurement Environmental and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) Project took place a month ago. He explained that the meeting had helped to deepen understanding of the requirements and rules guiding the implementation of the Project as well as the agreements between Nigeria and the World Bank.

He further said that the Project team had requested for this meeting so that all concerned would agree on an approach that guaranteed the successful implementation of the ACE Impact project. He expressed the hope that grey areas or questions that might be burning in everyone’s mind would be addressed, so that the project implementation could proceed smoothly.

The NUC Scribe congratulated the universities for the achievements made in the project which led to the disbursement letters received from the World Bank, noting that the results generated under the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs), even while the Project encountered a long delay before take-off were commendable.  He added that more heartwarming was the fact that the Centres had acknowledged receipts of funds into the project account and encouraged them to put more effort in all areas to ensure that the objectives of the ACE Impact project were achieved.

“Now that the funds have started flowing, I would like to hear from each Centre on the progress made, challenges, and next steps,” he said.

The NUC Executive Secretary further said that the project only became disbursement effective halfway into its life span and would expire in 2024, after which funding from the World Bank would cease. He called on the Vice Chancellors to seek other ways of generating revenue that were sustainable, such that the Centre could stand on its own at the end of the World Bank support.

He emphasized that the impacts of the Centre must be felt in their respective universities while the host community should also benefit from the facilities in the Centres, adding that ACE Impact had designed a disbursement-linked indicator (DLI 7) that focused on institutional impact with a particular component (DLI 7.6) for enhanced digital infrastructure and networking capacity.

This, component, according to him, was unique to Nigeria and it included ICT infrastructure, to support learning, teaching, and research.

Prof. Rasheed stated that the NUC had also made efforts to ensure that the impact of the Project was felt within the Commission. He disclosed that the NUC started by creating a Directorate of Special Projects to house all the externally funded Projects and have recently deployed staff that went through a rigorous and competitive selection process to manage the projects.

The Project was also supporting the upgrade of some of its ICT facilities to ensure that the impact of ACE Impact was felt in NUC. He added that the Commission had adopted an all-inclusive, open, and transparent approach towards the implementation of the Project and were involving all the relevant arms of the NUC in the process.

He cited the example of the Resource verification and Accreditation of the ACE and SPESSE Programmes which would be led by the Directorates of Academic Planning and that of Accreditation. The various internship activities under the Project, graduate tracer studies and Labour Market Observatory would also receive input from the Directorate of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship and same similar roles would be played by other Directorates, depending on what needed to be done per time.

In his presentation, the Project Coordinator, Dr. Joshua Atah, stated that like the other World Bank projects, ACE Impact was also a result-based financing project which had attracted $75million from the World Bank and $40million from AFD. He noted that there would be a mid-term review and funds reallocation within two years after signing the performance contract, explaining that it would be a thorough evaluation of performance.

Dr. Joshua, stressed that the grant amount to each center and its usage would be reviewed and could be adjusted depending on the performance level of the ACEs, adding that ACEs that were behind in implementation would have their grant reduced by 50% of the uncommitted amount that was above half their grant while recovered funds would be made available to other institutions performing well.

Highlighting some of the key indicators to measure progress of ACEs, the Project Coordinator informed participant that the following parameters would be used:

•           Number of students (national and regional) enrolled in postgraduate programmes in the selected ACEs (Quantity of Education & Regional Specialization).

•           Number of ACE programmes and ACE host institutions that obtain international accreditation (Quality of Education).

•           Number of ACEs that have substantial development impact (as measured by an independent evaluation of each Centre’s impact on development at mid-term and end of project).

•           Percentage of ACE host institutions with a comprehensive strategic plan for regionalisation (Regional Specialisation and Collaboration).

•           Number of students and faculty participating in internships and/or apprenticeships in relevant industry/sector institutions (Development Impact of Education).     

He mentioned that the National Project Performance Review Committee (NPPRC) would be constituted at the national level by all participating countries and tasked with a semi-annual review of performance and implementation support. He said that membership of the NPPRC would be drawn from the Federal Ministry of Finance and relevant line ministries based on the focus areas of the ACEs.

According to him, Vice Chancellors and Centre Leaders would be members of the NPPRC, while the NPPRC would be headed by a national PSC Member or focal point leader appointed by the government of each participating country as well as Nigeria’s NPPRC usually meet a month before each of the bi-annual Regional Workshop and PSC meetings.

 He reminded the gathering that the national PSC member for Nigeria was the Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof Abubakar Adamu Rasheed while the National focal point leader is Dr.  Joshua Atah.

The high point of the programme was presentation of progress report, challenges, and next steps by Centre Leaders.