Nineteen university-based African Centers of Excellence (ACE) across seven countries in West and Central Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Togo and Cameroon) will receive a combined grant of $150 million from the World Bank, to enable them provide training and higher education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as agriculture and healthcare.
The grant will be provided through World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA)’s credit, which helps the world’s poorest countries by providing loans and grants for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives.
While Nigeria received the highest grant of $70 million, Ghana, Senegal and Gambia received $24m, $16m and $3m respectively while Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Togo got $8 million each.
ACE, which was formally launched at the Association of African Universities’ conference of rectors, vice-chancellors and presidents in Libreville, Gabon, last year; offers a regionally integrated way to increase high-quality research and development services that will help students, faculty and civil servants, with new scientific and technical skills.
Africa faces a shortage of skilled workers in fast-growing sectors such as extractive industries, energy, water, and infrastructure, as well as telecommunications and health, the World Bank says. And this may partially explain why maternal mortality rate on the continent remains high – 500 maternal deaths per 100, 000 live births.
The continent also needs its local research and innovative solutions to tackle its peculiar developmental challenges including climate change, political stability, and infectious diseases amongst others.
Speaking on the new initiative, World Bank Education Manager for West & Central Africa, Peter Materu observed that Students in West and Central Africa urgently need high-quality science and technology programs to compete in their own regional job market as well as the global economy, but not a single university from this part of Africa features in rankings of the world’s top 500 universities.
Hence, “The African Centers of Excellence (ACE) project is a win-win initiative (that) will help young people achieve their aspirations without leaving Africa, and it will help firms to find advanced skills and knowledge domestically and to compete more effectively in international markets,” he added.