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The Minister of Education, Barrister Nyesom Wike, has disclosed that the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Project that emerged from the World Bank-sponsored initiative, held the key to the realisation of Africa’s potential.
Speaking at the formal launch of the Project, meant to promote regional specialisation among Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), in the West and Central African sub-regions, at the NUC Auditorium, Abuja, the Minister said that it was a pride for Africa and Africans to be more introspective and eager to take care of the common challenges in their higher education in an organised and sustainable way.
Barr. Wike maintained that the likes of Kwame Nkrumah and other great African leaders of his time would have been very proud to see the seeds of Pan-Africanism which they planted taking a stronger hold on the continent, especially through the academia.
He congratulated the 19 -university-based ACEs for their efforts, stating that the award was to further spur the universities to greater heights in academic achievements.
While acknowledging that the ACE Project offered the African universities the opportunity to improve on Agriculture, Health, Science and Technology, through research in the specified areas of their interests, he urged them to brace up for the challenges of seeing the projects, to fruition, to justify the confidence reposed in them by the World Bank. He emphasised that their collective efforts would go a long way to make Africa self-reliant, a world destination and an economic power house.
The Minister said that the World Bank was investing about $129 million, with each Centre eligible to receive funds up to $8 million. He told all the ACE project winners to realise that, though there were so many challenges common in Africa, such as illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and it would take only Africans to fix them. He added that Sub-Saharan Africa had a rapidly growing population of youths who lacked functional skills; that the region faces the challenges of high urban migration, desertification, terrorism, crime and related social vices, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, and that 31 million of the 57 million children were of school age.
Barr Wike expressed appreciation to the Governments of the participating countries for their efforts in bringing the ACE Project on board, saying that the expectation was that in no distant future, these new ACEs would be among the top 500 universities in the world.
He thanked the World Bank, the Project Steering Committee (PSC), the National Project Performance and Review Committee (NPPRC), the Regional Facilitation Unit in the Association of African Universities and the Coordinators of ACE focal point in the participating countries for their support. He assured the Bank that the Project would be a huge success so that more would emerge, especially from Nigeria.
In his welcome remarks, the NUC Executive Secretary and Chairman of the PSC, Professor Julius A. Okojie, said that the ACE Project was helping in some particular ways to address the common challenges confronting the sub-region. The African Centres must collaborate, to address the short-comings in the areas of Mathematics, Science, Agriculture and Technology.
Professor Okojie noted that the ACE team had spent the last three days to reviewing the selected projects to ensure that they were the best.
According to him, Nigeria was providing the leadership for the project with the hope that it would, at the end, help to improve capacity, research capabilities and collaboration among universities in Africa.The World Bank Country Director, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, represented by Professor Folorunsho Okumadewa, in her speech, stated that there was the need to address the huge gap in skills in many sectors within the sub-region, ranging from health, agriculture, science and technology, among others, by conducting research, that could help Africa develop, adapt and resolve their challenges.
He noted that the project was the first-large scale regional venture within HEIs in the sub-region and that it was being coordinated by the AAU. He congratulated the 19 ACEs for winning the grants through a highly competitive, transparent and merit- based selection and urged them to transform their universities into the engines of development.
The President of AAU, Professor Olusola Oyewole, in his remarks, said that the Association would continue to play its role as the driver of education in Africa. He expressed delight that the World Bank was collaborating with the Association and described the synergy as the most resounding in the universities, saying that the project would meet the need for specialised skills in Africa.
In a goodwill message, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, represented by a Director in the Ministry, Mrs. Aisha S. Umar, reiterated that ACE was meant to bring about regional specialisation in the areas of each university’s expertise, by adding value to the efforts of regional integration in Africa as well as addressing the skill-gap needed to grow the economies of Africa.
She said that the ACE project called for investments in the tertiary intuitions to diversify the economic base of Africa.
Meanwhile the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) for West and Central Africa regions recently held its second Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting at the National Universities Commission (NUC) Secretariat in Abuja, to deliberate on its progress and work out details on the processes of accessing implementation of the Project.
At a pre-meeting press briefing, the Executive Secretary of the NUC and member of the PSC, Professor Julius A. Okojie, said that the development objective of the Project was to support the recipients to promote regional specialisation amongst participating universities in areas that address regional challenges and strengthen the capacities of these universities to deliver quality training and applied research.Eight countries:Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, the Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo attended the meeting.
Professor Okojie remarked that the PSC had the mandate to fashion out regional collaboration in higher education and assist the new ACEs and all universities in the sub-region to achieve their mandate of teaching, research and community service.
As custodians of higher education in the sub-region, the NUC Scribe charged stakeholders to embrace the tasks of the overall guidance, evaluation and implementation of the Project, adding that the Governments of member states and the World Bank had committed huge financial and human resources to ensure its success.He thanked all the PSC members for the achievements recorded so far and congratulated all the selected Centres of Excellence.
Professor Okojie informed the gathering that the Federal Government of Nigeria had set aside a total of 1.3 trillion naira for public universities in the country, to ensure that they improved on research and teaching facilities.
He disclosed that another initiative of the Federal Government, the Presidential Special Scholarships for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), which was launched in 2012, to identify the best brains in the system for training in some of the best universities in the world. He, however,cautioned universities in the subregion against the clamour to be ranked amongst the top universities in the world,urging them to be more concerned with the task of addressing the challenges of their immediate environment.
In his remarks, the Secretary General, Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Etienne Ehile, observed that the ACE Project was a laudable initiative, which should be supported by all the NUC stakeholders to succeed. He noted that the Project had been designed and conceived with a view to making higher education work for the development of Africa through the building of a strong foundation for excellence, by attracting the best brains in terms of students and faculty. He gave the assurance that the AAU, as a Regional Facilitating Unit of the ACE Project, would do everything possible to ensure that the aims and aspirations of the Project were achieved with the support of the World Bank.
Also speaking at the press briefing, the World Bank’s Lead Economist, responsible for Africa Education, Mr. Andreas Blom, observed that the Project must benefit students, their countries and the sub-region as a whole to be termed successful.He added that the Project would enhance regional cooperation and ensure the interaction and sharing of research, experiences and resolution of problems amongst participating universities.
Mr Blom’s counterpart at the World Bank, the Education Economist, Ms. Himdat Bayusuf, added that the ACE Project was a practicable solution to Africa’s water, sanitation and food insecurity problems.She insisted, however, that the success of the project depended largely on the cooperation of all stakeholders in the sub-region.
Earlier, the ACE Project Coordinator for Nigeria and Deputy Director, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Projects, Dr. Joshua Atah, welcomed all the PSC members to Nigeria and informed them of the relevance of the meeting, which he said, was, amongst other things, to examine a number of issues concerning the Project and plan for its official launch.
The ACE Project is a World Bank initiative which seeks to promote regional scientific specialisation to deliver quality training and research, starting in West and Central Africa. Following the rolling out of the Project, the PSC was inaugurated in Dakar, Senegal, in October 2013, to oversee the implementation of the Project. A total of 19 university-based Centres of Excellence were selected in seven countries in West and Central Africa, in an effort to tackle a serious shortage of skilled workers in major industries that are vital to the continent’s economic growth.
The ACEs were distributed amongst the following countries: Nigeria (10), Ghana (3), Senegal (2), Benin (1), Burkina Faso (1),Cameroon (1), and Togo (1); the focus and areas of the selected 19 Centres of Excellence were as follows: 5 Centres of Excellence on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); 6 Centres of Excellence on Health discipline; and 4 Centres of Excellence on Agriculture discipline. Nigeria and Senegal would fund additional three Centres and one Centre of Excellence from their own resources.
The project would receive credits from the World Bank’s International Development Association via the Governments of Nigeria ($70 million), Ghana ($24 million), Senegal ($16 million), Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Togo ($8 million each).The Gambia will also receive a $2 million credit and a $1 million grant to provide higher education, including short-term training, to students, faculty and civil servants, through the 19 ACEs. Coordination and knowledge sharing among the 19 ACEs would be managed through the AAU, which the WorldBank said, had received a $5m grant for this purpose.
Meanwhile, the National Universities Commission (NUC) has hosted the newly-awarded African Centres of Excellence (ACEs)’s winners to a dinner at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), Abuja.
In his remarks at the dinner, the Executive Secretary, NUC, Professor Julius A. Okojie, commended the Project Steering Committee (PSC) for the tremendous improvements made, through the adoption of modern trends in the operation of its activities, especially those geared towards improved research output for the development of the sub-region.
Professor Okojie observed that Africa produced a large pool of resourceful professors, who had contributed to the high-ranking status of the top universities in the United States of America,United Kingdom and Asia. He called on the professors to return to their respective countries and contribute to the system in order to make African universities rank among the world’s most recognised universities.
The executive secretary explained further that the meeting of the PSC and World Bank officials at the NUC was a clear indication that the project was on the right path. While assuring the gathering that the Project would be delivered successfully and on time, Professor Okojie said: “We need to build confidence and fine-tune the synergy between the universities and the industry.”
He thanked the World Bank for the huge investment it had continuously made, particularly in the Nigerian University System (NUS), adding that there was the need for more capacity building projects, which could be utilised to improve on contemporary efforts in areas such as food security, climate change, among others.
In his remarks, the World Bank’s Lead Economist, responsible for Africa Education, Mr. Andreas Blom, said that Nigeria and other African countries had made landmark achievements through proper engagement of human resources,which had ensured that they won the ACEs for the region. He noted that the African continent had benefited so much from the interventions and other numerous programmes of the World Bank, adding that the Bank would continue to support the region, especially on knowledge sharing, improving research, as well as modern programmes that were human-driven.
Mr. Blom thanked the Managements of the NUC and AUST for putting the event together and congratulated all the ACEs member countries for their well-deserved awards.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the President, AUST, Professor Wole Soboyejo expressed gratitude to the NUC Executive Secretary for transforming the NUS, saying that the system had witnessed a lot of improvements under his tenure.He commended the World Bank for the initiative of the Centres of Excellence, adding that the change of paradigm of the World Bank and other funding agencies should occupy the front burner in the discourse on the improvement of knowledge and ideas all over the world.