Tuesday, November 15, 2016 

Hubs to harness top brains to open soon

POTENTIAL: The proposed Centers around the region can help gifted young people to become skilled professionals.

NAIROBI, KENYA - Plans have been finalised to strengthen 24 centres in east and southern Africa where top talent in various fields can be nurtured and encouraged to deepen the pool of local expertise. 

“We have a shortage of graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction, which translates to fewer skilled professionals with specialized knowledge in areas like oil and gas, energy and railways industries,” Prof. Colletta Suda, Principal Secretary, Higher Education, Kenya said recently at the announcement under the auspices of the Inter University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) and the World Bank. 

“The scale of the need for highly skilled and specialised labour in the region is so large that it is unsustainable to send most of our post-postgraduate students abroad for training.”

The proposed All Centers of Excellence ACEs are expected to enroll more than 3,500 graduate students in the regional development priority areas, out of which at least 700 would be PhD students and more than 1,000 would be female. 

Basically, these centers are a place where a particular activity is done very well and where new developments or new ways of working are introduced.

 “We value this new partnership to improve the quality of training and research in higher education, and reduce the skill gaps in key development priority areas,” Prof. Alexandre Lyambabaje, the IUCEA Executive Secretary said.

Assistance will also be given for the publication of at least 1,500 journal articles, launch more than 300 research collaborations with the private sector and other institutions, and generate about $30 million in external revenue

According to a statement from the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, the five-year $140 million project will work to build collaborative research capacity in five regional priority areas: industry (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), agriculture, health, education and applied statistics. 

It is financed by the World Bank in form of credit to eight participating countries. These include Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. 

However, the IUCEA, which responsible for coordinating the development of higher education in the Community, will facilitate and coordinate the project.

Fred Matiangi, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Education thanked the World Bank for its support for the education sector, but also asked all governments to end bureaucratic delays that slow project implementation. 

“We don’t get any useful results from being bureaucratic. Governments should not be a hurdle; they should be a facilitating entity,” he said.

Dr. Sajitha Bashir, World Bank’s Practice Manager for its Education Global Practice, said the Bank sees this as a broader effort to build technical and scientific capability for Africa’s socio-economic transformation. 

“Without these highly specialized professional skills and without that critical mass, we don’t think that Africa can transform itself,” she said. 

Suda it makes sense to pool the Eastern and Southern Africa region’s existing human and financial resources into a few specialized centers that would have the explicit mandate of offering quality education and relevant research to serve the entire region’s needs.

All ACEs were selected through an objective, transparent and merit-based process. 

Out of the 92 eligible proposals submitted, 24 were selected from universities across the eight participating countries. Each ACE will receive $4.5 million to $6 million to implement its own proposal. 

It is envisaged that at the end of the project the Centers will have developed sufficient capacity to become sustainable regional hubs for training and research in their specialized fields, capable of leading efforts to address priority development challenges and improve lives in the region. 

IUCEA, the ACE II regional facilitation unit, will provide forums for the private sector and ACEs to share knowledge on collaborative research ideas. 

It will also supervise a competitive scholarship program in which 30 regional students in STEM will be financed for two years to attain a Master’s degree in any of the ACEs. 

In many industrialised countries, ACEs are important economic drivers for generating public and private investment and creating an energized, entrepreneurial environment.

By Samuel Nabwiiso, Tuesday, November 15th, 2016