By Favour Nnabugwu
The World Bank has set plans in motion to support Nigerian universities through the establishment of Centres for Excellence (CoEx) in some tertiary institutions in the country.
A delegation of the Bank was in the country recently to discuss with key stakeholders on the establishment of CoEx in some universities in Africa, as part of its mandate in the Region.
Led by Mr. Andreas Blom, the team said the Bank had earlier met with some senior government officials and the Nigeria Universities Commission, NUC.
He added that Nigeria was the first in the Bank’s tour of seven countries because it is the largest and most important country on the continent.
The visit was meant to achieve two main objectives: of learning from the universities to develop the project design, and also to hearing from the universities on how the project might benefit them.
The eligibility criteria for the universities include academic depth (institutions must offer master and PhD degrees) and academic breadth (programmes in, at least, one of the three priority disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Health Sciences and Agricultural Sciences).
Blom explained further that the Bank embarked on the African Centres of Excellence Project for two reasons: many countries on the continent had asked for support for their higher education, and that Africa is a continent on the move with high growth rate, skills gap and need for professional human capital.
Science, he said, had become so sophisticated that everybody cannot do everything. There is, therefore, the need to concentrate on areas of competences, which can be shared.
He said the bank will call for regional proposals, between January and February 2013, through each government agency.
Blom said the need for such CoEx had become glaring as strong economic growth brought about increase in skills shortages in the extractive industries, energy, water, environment, climate change and infrastructure.
He said the CoEx, when operational, would make higher education work for development, build the foundation of excellence, attract talents (faculty and students), governance, autonomy and accountability.
Others include the attraction of adequate and sustainable funding, fund raising through fees, research, consultancies, revenue, donations, and private.
Welcoming participants to a consultative meeting organised by the NUC, the Executive Secretary of the commission, Julius Okojie, said the timing was right and promised that the opportunity would be used to address the critical challenges facing the region such as food security, availability of portable water, affordable housing, security and technology.
The NUC boss urged World Bank to ensure that the CoEx meets the relevant needs of the country if their objectives are to be achieved.
He advised that an institution hosting a CoEx must have the relevant human and material resources required to sustain it.
Okojie noted that CoExs evolve over time and for an institution to qualify for such a Centre, it must have existed for some years, with good learning facilities and quality research output.
He tasked the 21 universities present at the meeting to remain focussed and provide what it takes to sustain the centres, stressing that first and second generation universities in the country should provide leadership in research.
He assured them that they have what it takes to be Centres of Excellence in Africa and that they could count on NUC’s support.