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N11.2 billion for 10 Nigerian universities

The World Bank on Thursday approved $150 million (N24 billion) to finance 19 university-based Centers of Excellence in seven countries in West and Central Africa.

Ten of the beneficiaries of the scheme are Nigerian universities, while nine others are from other West and Central African regions, including Ghana, Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo, Gambia and Cameroun.

The Bank said the competitively selected beneficiaries would receive funding for advanced specialized studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM-related disciplines, as well as in agriculture and health.

The Africa Centers of Excellence, ACE, project is to be financed through International Development Agency, IDA, credits to the governments of the affected institutions to equip young Africans with new scientific and technical skills.

The Bank said Nigeria would receive about $70 million (N11.2 billion), Ghana ($24 million), Senegal ($16 million), while Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Togo would receive $8 million each.

The Gambia would receive $2 million credit and a $1 million grant to provide higher education, including short-term training, to students, faculty and civil servants through the 19 ACEs.

Under the Agriculture category, the benefitting institutions include Federal University of Agriculture, Nigeria for Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment; University of Ghana for training Plant Breeders, Seed Scientists and Technologists; University of Lome, Togo for the Poultry Sciences; Bayero University, Nigeria, for Dryland Agriculture, and Benue State University, Nigeria, for Food Technology and Research.

The health category has as beneficiaries Redeemers University, Nigeria, for Genomics of Infectious Diseases; University of Ghana for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens; University of Jos, Nigeria, for Phytomedicine Research and Development; Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, for Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology; University of Benin, Nigeria, for Reproductive Health and Innovation, and Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal for Maternal and infant Health.

Those in the STEM category include African University of Science and Technology, Nigeria, for Materials; Université d’Abomey – Calavi, Bénin for Applied Mathematics;Université de Yaoundé I, Cameroon for Information and Communication Technologies;Institut International d’Ingénierie de l’Eau et de l’Environnement (2iE) for Water, Energy, and Environment Sciences and Technologies.

Others include University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, for Oil Field Chemicals; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, for Water and Environmental Sanitation; Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria for Science, Technology and Knowledge; and University of Gaston Berger, St. Louis, Senegal for Mathematics, Informatics, and ICT.

The World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, said the Bank was excited to support these pioneering centers of excellence, as they would be another step in building and nurturing specialized world-class higher education institutions in Africa.

“I can think of no better way to grow African economies, create jobs, and support research in Africa, than educating young graduates with expertise in high-demand areas such as chemical engineering, crop science, and the control of infectious diseases,” Mr. Diop said.

He said the continent was facing a serious shortage of skilled workers in fast-growing sectors, including extractive industries, energy, water, and infrastructure and fields of health and telecommunications.

The result of having too few skilled workers in Africa’s extractive industries, he noted, was that oil and minerals are extracted in Africa, but processed elsewhere in the world, to the detriment of African industries and jobs.

Africa, the World Bank Vice President said, also suffers from a shortage of trained health workers capable of providing high quality maternal health services, pointing out that this may partially explain why Africa’s maternal mortality rate has remained so tragically high at 500 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Africa, he pointed out, needs its own research and innovative solutions to tackle its development challenges, including climate change, which calls for urgent measures to increase yields in agriculture, while infectious diseases continue to exact a heavy toll on families and economies.

Regrettably, he said, the researcher-to-population ratio remains very low in African countries, citing the example of Burkina Faso, which has 45 research and development, R&D specialists per million people, and Nigeria with 38, in comparison to an average of 481 in Latin America and 1,714 in East Asia.

World Bank Education Manager for West & Central Africa, Peter Materu, said the new Bank-financed ACEs offer a regionally integrated way to increase high-quality R&D services that would help meet the above challenges.

“Students in West and Central Africa urgently need high-quality science and technology programmes 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,” Mr. Materu said “The African Centers of Excellence project is a win-win initiative—it will help these 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 said the coordination and knowledge-sharing among the 19 ACEs would be managed through the Association of African Universities (AAU), an important regional partner, which has received a $5 million grant for this purpose.

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