The World Bank (WB) ‘Africa Centres of Excellence’ (ACE) project was established to deliver regional, demand driven, quality training and applied research in partnerships with international academic institutions and with relevant employers and industry. In August 2013, several institutions across the sub-Saharan region submitted 52 proposals in response to a call by the Association of African Universities (AAU) - led World Bank funded project. This project was initiated by the World Bank because:

  • • though West and Central Africa is experiencing strong economic growth, it still faces significant development challenges

  • • there are immediate skill shortages in addressing development challenges and poverty reduction in West and Central Africa

  • • sustained economic growth in Africa requires an increase in Science and Technology capacity, more skilled labour and applied research to increase technology absorption, raise total factor productivity and generate new competitive sectors

  • • higher education in West and Central Africa is under-developed and has been a low priority for the past two decades

  • • limited investment has meant that higher education institutions in West and Central Africa are currently not capable of responding to the immediate skills needs or supporting sustained productivity-led growth in the medium term

  • • higher education policies are disconnected from regional and national development priorities resulting in gaps between labour market demand and competencies of graduates
  • • higher education in Africa faces severe constraints in terms of attaining a critical mass of quality faculty

  • • financing for higher education is not sustainable without sufficient funding coming from affluent households and the private sector

  • • a regional approach to higher education in Africa offers the best way to build and sustain excellence in higher education in African economies

  • • a regional approach would work best in focusing on the few dynamic institutions with pockets of quality faculty that have already been responding innovatively by offering quality, fee-based, courses to students across West and Central Africa.

After a rigorous, transparent and merit-based evaluation process, five institutions among the several applicants were selected under the Agriculture category to receive the World Bank grant. This selection was done in accordance with the highest international standards. A critical objective of the World Bank funded project is to improve economic growth and reduce poverty by supporting governments to strengthen and scale up the capacities of institutions to provide individuals with the critical skills to fill existing gaps to deliver services beneficial to well-being and economic growth in Africa. It is hoped that the ACEs would tackle development challenges and poverty reduction in West Africa by providing skills and developing human capacity identified in various sectors especially Agriculture. The five selected ACEs are: