The Nigeria Honorable Minister of state for Education, Prof Anthony Anwukah has called for a continuous collaboration of relevant stakeholders and funding agencies to fashion out ways of sustaining the Africa Centers of Excellence beyond the World Bank intervention.
Prof Anthony Anwukah made the plea at the 7th Regional workshop of the Africa center of Excellence held in Lagos.
The World Bank in collaboration with west and central African countries launched the Africa Centre for Excellence project on April 2014.
The ACE project has substantial regional outreach with universities in Nigeria for the first time attracting students from the sub region including the Gambia.
The Minister stated that the Nigerian government is set to adopt the disbursement linked indicator method of the Africa Centre of Excellence project to reward excellence in the Nigerian University System.
“In terms of research it has added a lot to the sector, I think the universities who have been selected for the project are doing very well, we hope to add more to the project in terms of research in science and technology.
Its been explained to me that most of the universities didn’t apply when they were selecting but this time around every university in Nigeria will be given the opportunity to apply in our ACE 3 project,” he said.
He also stressed that the government is scaling up the project to accommodate more institutions especially in the south west of the country which were initially omitted.
“The omission or initial mistakes were made but as a corrective regime we will have to make amends and make sure that everybody is involved in the project,” he explained.
“This project is all about research, science, technology and high science, this is ongoing it will be different this time around, be optimistic,” Prof Anwukah said.
Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Prof Abubakar Rasheed said that limited but attainable target is required to keep the project afloat and sustained.
He said the commission is working critically with the universities to see that they do not embark on unrealistic projects.
“Let me make one thing clear, Nigeria universities in general are doing well. We normally criticize or condemn some of our activities but believe me, Nigeria university system has its own challenges but in general is doing very well.
Our graduates some may have problems but majority of our graduates who have been found to have satisfied the requirements to earn the Nigeria degrees are well considered.
Many of them have opportunity to travel abroad for studies for studies always excel in their studies, we are yet to know of a Nigeria who have studied in a Nigerian university and have graduated with a good grade in Nigeria and who have had the opportunity to go abroad and failed to earn higher degree abroad which means our standard is fairly competitive.
But of course we are working hard to improve it and make it better than it is today, the ACE’s are doing very well, four of them are in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Three are in the area of Agriculture and three are in the area of health sciences and they are all doing very well,” he explained.
Prof Rasheed said the project have experienced some challenges but have pulled through.
“We had initial challenges in the beginning when the program was supposed to take up in 2014 and we also had some little challenges last year when the Treasury single Account was introduced and the monies was kept centrally in the central bank.
But am happy to say as at today we have resolved those problems and we are implementing the ACE’s in line with the initial proposals approved by the Wold Bank.
So in general, the ACE’s are doing well, there are two or three of them that showed some sign of sickness some months back but we have succeeded in giving them injections and I want to assure you they are all coming up fine and we hope all the ten centers will continue to demonstrate adequate competence in their areas and ultimately impact positively.”
When asked about the sustainability of the projects, Prof Rasheed said sustainability is one thing that has informed the conception of the ACE projects.
“We do not want to see the program folding up soon after the expiration of the intervention of the World Bank.
All the programs have been designed in such a way that if they are well and truly executed in the way they are and if the universities and the center leaders take up the challenges to ensure that we run them as moderately as possible.
While the World Bank funding last and we set our target in a limited and attainable manner we will certainly ensure that the centers survived and thrived even after the World Bank intervention is exhausted.”
On the need assessment project for universities, Professor Rasheed explained that it is not the National universities commission initiative but the Tertiary Education Trust Fund project.
“I think there is a little misunderstanding here, the NUC does not own the needs assessment project.
The needs assessment project was a intervention initiated by TETFUND years back and the federal government took it over and the first trench of allocations was given in 2013 of two hundred billion naira given to seventy two public universities in the country.
The first trench is now in its final stages, what we did in the last two month was to go round the universities, invite the vice chancellors and project leaders to compare note to do a kind of auditing, project auditing and now we have sent our report to the ministry of education for the release of the balances of the first trench for many of the universities its only ten per cent that is left to be paid,” Prof Rasheed explained.
He added “We are now preparing for the second installment which as soon as the committee is given the green light it will meet and go into work earnestly.
But the secretariat of the need assessment program is in the Federal Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Education is the Chairman.”
The regional task team leader for the World Bank in Education, Andreas Blom said the ACE project is determined to make better universities, teachers, Curriculum and laboratories in Nigeria.
He said with this Nigerian students do not have to spend ridiculous amount of money to attain a higher education abroad.
“First of all I will say Nigeria is the biggest country in the region and has the largest centers of excellence.
Nigeria has strong universities but they are not recognized outside, there are very few regional students coming into Nigeria.
So the quality of need to be raised and a lot of Nigeria students are going outside spending a lot of money on quality education outside on masters and PhD but all those talents, Nigeria talents can remain in Nigeria.
But for that we need better universities, we need very good teaching curriculum and laboratories.
That means for Nigeria we are funding several areas of science for example infectious diseases in particular the center of excellence for infectious diseases, genomics of infectious diseases the redeemers university that was the testing site for the Ebola crisis in Nigeria.
They were able to test and turn around the results within six hours, very critical information, scientific information that confirmed that there was Ebola and allowed the government to quickly respond and hence contain the virus,” he concluded.
He said the World Bank intervention project in Nigeria will gulp seventy million US Dollars.