The ACE II project was conceived in response to multiple and well-formulated project proposals from individual countries and universities for establishing regional education and research centers in specific topics. This larger systematic regional project is meant to strengthen longer-term African capacity to train at the highest level a new generation of Africans who can develop and apply science and technology to solve Africa’s most pressing challenges. Given the shared nature of these challenges such as energy shortage, high infant mortality, low agriculture productivity and high food imports, the challenge of adding value to primary commodities in Africa, for example, the investments and the capacity from this project should benefit the region and not be limited by national borders.
Experiences from East Asia and Latin America clearly show how profound, long-term and continued investment and reform efforts into training high-quality technicians and scientists for very concrete industries can lead to complete transformation of the targeted economic sectors and emergence of new competitive and higher value-added production.
The project aims to play a critical role in term of funding incentives, know-how and capacity by supporting the governments to:
- Reach a higher level of scientific and technologic education through regional specialization, investments and collaboration; Invest in successful models for relevance and quality through performance-based funding, accompanied by strengthening internal revenue generation;
- Establish ACEs that meet and exceed international standards;
- Attract the best young African talents and educate them at Masters and PhD levels to address pressing African development challenges through collaboration with world-class institutions, and subsequently retain the talented working in Africa;.
- Create a platform for the top-notch African faculty teams to learn from each other academically and administratively and benchmark among themselves;
- Support capacity building within essential areas, notably industry-collaboration, soft-
skills training, management and governance; and
Mobilize resources of development partners around a set of ACEs that can show the way for industry- and development-driven higher education.
The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) initiative was launched by the World Bank as a key step toward implementing this solution across Africa. Its first phase, ACE I was launched in 2013 for West and Central Africa, selecting 19 Centers of Excellence across seven countries in three priority sectors – STEM, Agriculture, and Health. Building on the ACE I experience, the second phase, the Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE II) seeks to strengthen the selected 24 Centers of Excellence to deliver quality post-graduate education and build collaborative research capacity in five regional priority areas: industry, agriculture, health,education and applied statistics. It shall do so by:
• Competitively and transparently selecting ACEs from existing higher education institutions that have the capacity and potential to address the selected priority sectors;
• Strengthening these specialized ACEs to produce excellent training and applied research;
• Building networks among the ACEs to promote regional collaboration with other institutions and the industry to produce innovative solutions with real impact;
• Developing a culture of results-orientation and accountability through an exemplary performance-based financing mechanism.
How are the Centers Selected?
A rigorous, competitive and transparent process marked the selection of the centers financed under the ACE II project. A call for proposals preceded an independent, two-step evaluation, which included a technical as well as an onsite and leadership assessment. Out of the 92 eligible proposals submitted, 24 were selected representing eight countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The selection criteria included: (a) addressing a specific challenge in one of the five priority areas in the region – industry, agriculture, health, education and applied statistics; (b) highest quality; (c) institutional capacity; (d) providing geographical balance; and (e) eligibility and availability for World Bank funding. The selected ACEs underwent financial management, procurement and safeguards assessments.