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East and Southern African excellence centres unveiled

Twenty-three research centres in East and Southern Africa have been earmarked for funding under a World Bank funded initiative to promote excellence.

The centres have been conditionally selected under the US$140 million Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project (ACE II).

The list, agreed at a meeting in December, includes four centres in Ethiopia, four in Uganda and two in Zambia.

They focus on specialist areas ranging from smart agriculture and herbal medicine to data science and sustainable mining (see full list at the end of the article).

They will act as regional hubs for training and research in their fields, in partnership with African and international institutions.

The selected centres are skewed in favour of East Africa—17 of the selected proposals hail from the region. This is in line with the regional spread of submissions responding to a call for proposals issued in July last year.

A further eight projects were identified as having merit as ‘fundable projects’, should local or regional funding be found to support them.

The University of Nairobi qualified for the ‘fundable’ list with its proposed ‘Centre of vaccine training and research’. However, the Kenyan giant failed to secure a conditional grant. 

Of the total 100 submissions, most came from institutions in Kenya and Ethiopia (20 each), followed by Uganda (19) and Tanzania (18).

Thirteen submissions originated from Zimbabwe, while the other qualifying countries contributed fewer than 10 proposals: Rwanda (6), Mozambique (5), Malawi (4) and Zambia (3).

Burundi was eligible, but produced no viable applications because of continuing political unrest.

Submissions focusing on innovative approaches in energy, extractives, manufacturing or railways were given special weight in the selection process. Under ACE I, which funded centres in West and Central Africa, proposals in these fields struggled to compete academically with those in health and agriculture. 

The maximum number of centres that could be awarded to a single institution was two—a feat achieved by Tanzania’s Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology and Uganda’s Makerere University.

However, both the University of Rwanda and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia gained exemption from the rule, with three centres apiece.

According to Xiaonan Cao, lead World Bank official on ACE II, they were given special dispensation since their structure is akin to that of the University of California—mega-institutions with many subsidiary colleges.

“Those two countries [Rwanda and Ethiopia] have consolidated their institutions for improving the quality of graduate education,” he told Research Africa.

The World Bank’s board of directors is expected to approve the conditional selection at its May meeting. 

ACE II centres selected for funding

Climate smart agriculture and biodiversity conservation (Haramaya University)
Innovative drug development and therapeutic trials (Addis Ababa University)
Water management (Addis Ababa University)
Railway education and research (Addis Ababa University)

Sustainable agriculture and agribusiness management (Egerton University)
Sustainable use of insects as food and feed (Jaramogi Odinga Oginga University of Science and Technology)
Phytochemicals textiles in renewable energy (Moi University)

Aquaculture and fisheries science (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources)
Public health and herbal medicine (Malawi College of Medicine)

Energy for sustainable development (University of Rwanda)
Internet of things (University of Rwanda)
Data science (University of Rwanda)

Infectious disease surveillance in humans and animals (Sokoine University)
Water infrastructure and sustainable energy (Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology)
Research, evidence agricultural advancement, teaching excellence and sustainability (Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology)

Crop improvement (Makerere University)
Agro-ecology and livelihood systems (Uganda Martyrs University)
Pharm-biotechnology and traditional medicine (Mbarara University of Science and Technology)
Materials, product development and nanotechnology (Makerere University)

Infectious diseases of humans and animals (University of Zambia)
Sustainable mining (Copperbelt University)

ACE in sustainable food systems (University of Zimbabwe)