Africa Center of Excellence ACE2

Africa Centers of Excellence discuss sustainability and additional financing at 14th meeting

15 December 2022

The 14th Technical and Advisory Meeting (TAM) for the Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE II Project) took place from November 14 – 16th 2022 in Arusha, Tanzania. In attendance were members of the Regional Steering Committee, Vice Chancellors, Center Directors and staff from ACEs, World Bank and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA).

The Guest of Honour, Dr. Francis Michael, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, United Republic of Tanzania, said that the Centers of Excellence have a role to play in leading Africans towards the Africa we want. He called for sustainability of the program. “Both the World Bank and the governments should ensure that the program is sustained. The governance structures we have built around the centers and the results based financing model that the Centers use must be maintained and expanded for use by other entities in our universities,” he said.

The Executive Secretary, Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the Regional Facilitation Unit for ACE II, Prof. Gaspard Banyankimbona, said that the TAM is about taking stock of the achievements made to date and making the required improvements to achieve the intended project objectives.

“One of our expected outcomes from the ACEs was to create a sustainable university-industry partnership for technology transfer. We may ask ourselves some questions – how far have we gone with our incubation centers, how sustainable will our Centers be after the project lifetime just a year from now. The meeting is expected to discuss those issues and guide the Regional Steering Committee to make informed decisions on the way forward,” said Prof. Banyankimbona.

The discussion at the 14th TAM largely dwelt on sustainability and the innovative activities the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) are engaged in to raise revenue and become sustainable beyond government support that will end in December 2023. The ACEs have innovated a wide range of products from research that are ready for commercialization. They have started projects to raise revenue such as breeding programs to generate quality seed varieties, establishment of incubation centers and innovation hubs, tailor made short courses, bench fees from laboratories and other center facilities, and academia-industry collaborative research grants.

The Africa Center for Water Management (ACEWM) at Addis Ababa University is in a partnership with NORAD on a WASH project. ACEWM is also executing a WASH related consultancy with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education in addition to other consultancies in capacity building. The Center has generated about $1.1 million over five years. To firm up its sustainability ACEWM has developed an institutionalization framework that aims to place the center within the Addis Ababa University framework.

The Center of Excellence in Phytochemicals, Textiles and Renewable Energy (PTRE) in Kenya continuously responds to calls for funding, charges a bench fee to students and researchers using the Center’s equipment for research. PTRE has developed a range of products and is actively commercializing the products. The center has generated $2.9 million over the last five years.

“We have a product that we have tested in the supermarkets – sorghum bread with no gluten and good for diabetics. The baking is done by the supermarket. The challenge now is how to roll it out to other supermarkets,” said Prof. George Owuor, Center Director for the Center of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management (CEESAM) at Egerton University.

The Africa Center for Sustainable Mining (ACESM) at Copperbelt University is anchoring its resource mobilization on the development of mining analytical services.

“We are building analytical laboratories that will provide services to the mining industry. Those laboratories have to be of a high standard to support teaching and research as well as revenue generation. We will charge fees from mining companies to undertake research there. We are already offering those services to artisanal miners and we are able to raise about $3,000 a month. ACESM is in collaboration with the Center of Excellence for Battery Research in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The government of Zambia and the DRC have an MoU to undertake research and development of car batteries. The two Centers will work together and drive that research. The project will get support from UNECA,” said Dr. Mwansa Chabala, Center Director, ACESM.

“Our continuity is dependent on the health problems that we outline and we try to show the importance of these health problems to government as the major investor in these programs,” said Prof. Bernard Hangombe, ACEIDHA, University of Zambia.

The Center for Innovative Rodent Pest Management and Biosensor Technology Development (IRPM&BTD) has made AntiFert, a novel technology that is a hormonal bait formulation for fertility control to prevent rodent outbreaks. The product is registered in Tanzania by the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute, the government agency that registers pesticides. The center is now searching for a company that can produce this product for the market.

The Africa Center of Excellence for Public Health and Herbal Medicine (ACEPHEM) in Malawi is in a collaboration with an Israeli company to extract cannabis and develop different medicines. They are already conducting clinical trials with cannabis products.

The Center for Studies in Oil and Gas Engineering and Technology (CSOGET) received in-kind grant of licenses for reservoir modelling and simulation worth $22 million.

The Makerere University Center for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI) has established a seed testing laboratory whose aim is to support the seed business and reduce counterfeits as well as support training of students and industry professionals.

Calls for financing of Phase II

The Center Directors and Vice Chancellors were in consensus that while they have done a lot and even exceeded expectations, the ACEs need another phase of funding to consolidate the gains made. The ACEs are supported by their governments with financing from the World Bank.

“A second phase can be instrumental in funding the capacity building and some of these startups. We should strongly convince our governments to consider supporting a second phase the way Malawi and Mozambique have done. Such that we can earn some loyalties from the patents that we have filed,” Prof. Ambrose Kiprop of PTRE at Moi University.

The Center Leader, MAPRONANO, Prof John Baptist Kirabira, said that while Centers have been able to raise funds, these come with their own objective and cannot sustain a Center and its recurring expenditures like salaries. “These funds are complementary, tuition is not a direct income to the Centers, the money goes to the university. We still need support for phase two to sustain and create impact.”

“There are products and research outputs which are commercially viable. The elements are there but what we have been doing in Phase One is a lot of progress that needs to be consolidated and made even better with additional funding for Phase Two,” said Dr. Richard Edema of MaRRCI.

Prof. Celestino Obua, Vice Chancellor, Mbarara University of Science and Technology noted that what the ACEs have been doing in Phase One of ACE II needs to be consolidated. “It is nice to do research and publish, funders expect you to innovate something and sell it. Centers that are not thinking of innovations will forever be asking for more funds. Think, what is it we are going to research on from which we can develop IPs and commercialise,” said Prof. Obua

“After the [World Bank] funding ends and our Centers are integrated in the University structure, are our university structures ready for commercialization? There are tools which drive commercialization. If you look at our colleagues in the western world, there are companies neighbouring with universities which came out of research output as spin-off and spin-out. That is the biggest gap,” said Prof. Jameson Mbale from the Copperbelt University.

In his closing remarks, Prof. Goolam Mohamedbhai, the Chairperson of the ACE II Regional Steering Committee, the oversight body for the project, noted that the achievements of the project are remarkable.

“We must admit it was mainly the efforts of the ACEs themselves. It took them time to understand what we’re talking about, but they did it, and they kept on improving as we moved along, so lots of the credit must go to the ACEs, to the leadership of the ACEs and to the leadership of the institutions,” he said.

He also noted that the issue of sustainability has come up again and again.

“But the main objective should be the hard work that has been done over the past four, five, six years, that we do not lose those efforts, whatever is done about the ACE, the achievements are there, and they are not lost and should be passed on to the institution,” said Prof. Goolam.

Prof. Goolam reiterated that the ACEs were winning the race.

“Let’s hope that when the story of the ACEs is written one day, when they write about the history of higher education in Africa, ACE II is mentioned there as a chapter. It is a very successful chapter and one that all of us take pride to read.”