Africa Center of Excellence ACE2

Highlights from ACE II TAM December 2021

Highlights from ACE II TAM December 2021

The 12th Technical and Advisory Meeting (TAM) of the ACE II Project took place virtually from 6 – 9th, December 2021. TAM is an opportunity for Center Leaders and staff, the World Bank, IUCEA and other stakeholders to take stock of achievements and brainstorm on common challenges faced by the ACEs with the aim of improving the performance and the quality of project outputs. TAM also facilitates knowledge sharing and networking building and is held biannually in June and December of each year. The meeting was attended by over 150 participants including members of the Regional Steering Committee, ACE II Center Leaders and staff, University staff, World Bank, IUCEA and the Independent Verifying Agency.

Dr. Roberta Malee Basset, World Bank TTL for ACE II congratulated the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) that kept delivering in a time of disruption and for keeping the momentum going.

The Regional Project Coordinator at Inter-University Council for East Africa, Dr. Jonathan Mbwambo, presented an overview of ACE II project performance as up to December 2021. The project performance is tracked through a set of agreed Disbursement Linked Indicators:

  • Number of enrolled students
  • Number of accredited programs
  • Number of MoUs signed with partners
  • Number of project beneficiaries
  • Faculty and student exchange
  • Number of Publications
  • Participation in Partnership for Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) benchmarking exercise

Despite the COVID 19 pandemic, students continued to enroll for programs and about 451 students had enrolled in the six months leading to December 2021. The project achieved or exceeded the target on student enrolment, MoUs on partnership for collaboration, direct project beneficiaries, faculty and student exchange to promote research and teaching, as well as the number of internationally recognized publications produced by the ACEs.

It was noted that international accreditation was still a challenge with only 20 programmes accredited against a target of 51. Improvement was also still needed on DLR 2.3, 3 and 4.

  • 3 – Accreditation of quality of education programs
  • 3 – Timely, transparent and institutionally reviewed Financial Management
  • 4 – Timely and audited Procurement

The TTL clarified that at the Mid-Term Review and within the restructuring paper for the project, it was agreed to revamp the DLR on 2.3 to offer a broader menu of options for achieving international accreditation in terms of assessment of global recognition of the quality of programs. The proposal for 2.3 was to drop regional accreditation due to absence of a regional accrediting body in East Africa and to include other forms of international approbation including joint programs with an institution included in a global ranking above a threshold (top 750); and a joint program with an internationally accredited program.

The Center Leaders at ACEs that have attained international accreditation of some programs shared their experiences. These are their tips for success:

  • Its helpful to have the institutional support and buy-in to have the process done.
  • There must be a committed team working on the accreditation, from the lectures to the university management. For example, PTRE at Moi University formed an accreditation committee.
  • Must have a strong industrial partner
  • Important that the Center is in touch with its former graduates.
  • Must have good documentation not only at the Center level but also at the department and the school level and university level, such as the strategic plan. Accreditation cuts across the entire school and the university.
  • The program has to be nationally accredited.
  • Must work closely with the procurement office.
  • It’s a lengthy process that lasts about one year.

ACEs were encouraged to engage with offices of the Auditor Generals for timely verification of DLRs 3 and 4.

Private Sector Presentation

IUCEA recruited a consultant to develop a private sector engagement framework to strengthen ACE private sector engagement.  He presented the results of the findings from interviews and a survey with the ACEs and their private sector partners. The response rate from the private sector was dismal, an indicator of weak relationships between the centers and their partners. A validation workshop will be held with ACEs before the framework is rolled out.

Collaboration with industry

Another discussion led by Dr. Danica Ramljak, an innovation expert at the World Bank, dwelt on strengthening cooperation between the African Centers of Excellence and the business sector. The discussion explored the private sector models that exist. What benefits are there for the private sector in partnering with universities. Lessons from Europe, such as the University of Madrid, were shared on how they developed private sector partnerships. It is the universities to initiate and take lead in negotiations for partnership with the private sector. It was noted that a major challenge is lack of a culture that recognizes the importance of university-industry collaboration. A factor for successful collaboration is a commitment to delivering success for all involved – a win-win. ACEs and Universities could set up a seed grant to start off this collaboration.

It was noted that one cannot compare industry in Africa to that in Europe, America and other places. The approach of university-industry linkages should be: how can universities help industry build up capacity and help them in addressing some of the challenges that they are facing. Most industries in Africa are SMEs and universities must help industry to develop. In addition, it was noted that big companies don’t have their R&D offices in Africa, their offices in Africa are not interested in carrying out research.

Verification of Student/Staff Exchange

It was clarified that student/staff exchange verification is verified on the individual. The verification is not hinged on the exchange. One individual going to different places does not count as several exchanges because that’s not how it is stipulated in the project design. Otherwise only a few people would benefit from the project.

Visiting scholars on exchange are only nationalities of other countries. A scholar who is a national of the country where the ACE is based, even when they live abroad, will not count towards DLRs.

Post-doctoral programs: issues and opportunities

Post-Doctoral research aims to deepen expertise in a specialist subject. It also advances the scholarly mission of the host laboratory or institution. According to SACIDS, a transformative approach to boosting research vibrancy would be one post-doc for 3 PhD students within a single research theme to bring about research vibrancy.

Dr. Belete Legesse, a post-doctoral research fellow at CDT Africa said post-doc programs offer dedicated time to focus on a research project, access to mentorship from senior scientists and publication opportunities.


A procurement specialist from the World Bank Malawi Country Office gave guidance on procurement procedures.  Implementation of activities which are not in the approved procurement plan may amount to mis-procurement.

For issues that have come as a result of COVID-19, the global supply chain has been affected by COVID. Where users envisage delays, they should consider extending contracts before they expire.  ACEs were encouraged to determine realistic delivery periods while taking into consideration those challenges. It is better to plan ahead and start processes in good time and follow agreed upon procurement guidelines for the project.

Even for shopping procurement method, one needs to write a request for quotation, invite a minimum of three bidders to submit quotations, evaluate and go to the approvals committee. Understand the timelines.  Even simple shopping procurement cycles may take up to two months.

It was observed that late technical inputs cause delays. Users should initiate processes early. If there is need for a consultant, the ToRs should be developed by the users. Technical specifications for goods should also be developed by the users. Procurement officers for their part should not wait until the tender has closed to start setting up the evaluation committee and the evaluation documents.

Enhancing Academic Networks and Sustainability

The Agriculture group committed to developing joint programs, enhance exchange visits, developing and conducting joint short courses, hosting a regional conference, undertaking joint supervision and joint proposal development, among others. 

The Industry group indicated that some of the ACEs in industry such as PTRE and MAPRONANO have already co-implemented joint projects. They have also undertaken curriculum review and development, and short course development.

Common areas of interest for the future include co-supervision, research, student and staff exchange, joint response to call for proposals, among others.

Common areas of interest for the Education and Applied Statistics group include community engagement, research and post-graduate supervision, among others.

The conversation on enhancing collaboration between ACEs would continue at the next TAM in June 2022. ACEs need to stay in touch with each other to strengthen their collaboration. ACEs can serve as important hubs for the universities in thinking about expanding their own academic networks. The better and useful it is within the ACE framework, the better it is an opportunity for the ACE hosting institutions.

Commercialization of Research

There is a partnership between Japanese companies and ACEs which focused on empowerment of universities through knowledge sharing and technology transfer from Japanese companies.

Chitose group is developing capacity on commercialization of research and incubation centres. Chitose will help identified ACEs to identify the readiness to commercialize research as well as support fundraising opportunities.


A lot of concerns were raised regarding sustainability of the ACEs beyond World Bank financing. However, ACE leaders were encouraged to take this conversation to the institution and country level, as World Bank financing has to close at some point.

You can view the full sessions of TAM on the ACE II YouTube channel here.