Boosting Research in STEM, Health and Agricultural Sciences

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With an investment of $70 millions for Africa Centres of Excellence(ACE) project, the World Bank is set to deliver quality in higher education training and research in Agriculture; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics(STEM), and give the nation’s tertiary institutions a facelift, so that they could become globally-recognised. Funmi Ogundare reports

For two days, stakeholders drawn from the Association of African universities, Nigerian Universities Commission(NUC), World Bank, among others, recently, converged on the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, for the 7th regional project workshop of the Africa Centre of Excellence(ACE), to brainstorm on how to stimulate serious research in STEM, health and agriculture, in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Bank, in collaboration with West and Central Africa countries, had in April 2014, launched the Africa higher education Centres of Excellence(ACE) project to promote specialisation among participating universities within areas that address particular regional development challenges and strengthen their capacities to deliver high quality training and applied research.
Already, it has expended $70 million on projects in 10 Nigerian universities to enhance those areas and ensure they are globally competitive .

The 10 benefiting universities under African Centre for Excellence, ACE, include: Redeemers University, Mowe; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Jos, Jos; University of Benin, Benin, and African University of Science and Technology, Abuja. Others are, University of Port-Harcourt, Port Harcourt; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Bayero University, Kano; Benue State University, Makurdi and Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
In his opening remarks, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed commended those who made the project a success, adding that the commission is committed to the process that will enable it to achieve its aims.

“We have visited a number of ACEs to obtain first-hand knowledge of their activities and would be visiting others before the end of the year. We were not disappointed with what we saw. NUC has completed programmes, resource verification and national accreditation of the programmes of the centres. We are glad to report that about 96 percent of the programmes, got full accreditation,” he said

He said the commission would like to see the ACEs and Nigerian university system working in close partnership with research institutes to address developmental challenges and that it would be working closely with the Ministry of Science and Technology, as well as relevant stakeholders, to ensure the achievement of project goals.
“We have published the first quarterly journal of the project, while the second edition would be published before the end of this quarter. Work is also on-going on a documentary.

Rasheed said though it witnessed initial challenges in the beginning when the programme was supposed to take off in 2014, as well as when the TSA was introduced, but the problems have been resolved now as ACE is being implemented in line with the initial proposals approved by the World Bank.

“In general the ACEs are doing well, there are two or three of them that showed signs of sickness some months back but we have succeeded in giving some injections . I want to assure you that they are all coming up fine now and we hope that all the 10 centres will continue to demonstrate adequate competence in their own areas and ultimately impact positively on the lives of the community and the people in the area.”

The executive secretary said the Nigerian government would sustain the project even after the expiration of the intervention of the World Bank, noting that, “sustainability is one thing that has informed the conception of this project. All the programmes are designed in such a way that if they are well executed, and if the universities and centre leaders take up the challenges, we will ensure that we rally around them as moderately as possible while the World Bank funding lasts.”

The World Bank ACE Task Team Leader, Mr. Adreas Blom stressed the need for Nigeria to invest in quality education and ensure that the investment from the World bank and the government has a pay off that would benefit young people.
He described Nigeria as the biggest in the region with the highest number of centres of excellence, adding that though the country has strong universities but they are not recognised abroad.

“There are only very few regions that come into Nigeria and the quality needs to be raised. A lot of Nigerians are going outside to spend a lot of money on quality education. All those talents can remain in Nigeria, for that we need better universities and teachers’ curricula so that Nigerian talents stay in Nigeria and help in its development. That is the essence of this project. We are looking for more scientists, more knowledge and result for better development.”

The Honourable Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwukah said the federal government, through the Ministry of Education, will continue to work hard to ensure the sustainability of the project beyond its initial life cycle. According to him, “working together, along with the various funding agencies, such as the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), and others, we hope to be strategic in our collaboration to sustain this project in a way that would ensure a reduction in duplication of efforts in terms of project implementation.”

Anwukah who declared the workshop open, expressed the federal government’s delight about the ACE project and the progress made so far, while commending all its members in the region for their hard work and commitment towards the project.
“I acknowledge the Association of African Universities and the World Bank for the various roles they have been playing to ensure the success of this project. Therefore, I urge that you continue to collaborate with one another as well as fashion out other ways of sustaining this laudable project beyond the World Bank intervention.”