How Africa's pan-regional university networkings fostering an innovation ecosystem

Africa is divided into 54 sovereign nations. Besides, about a dozen territories are in various stages of autonomy. However, the pan-regional networking of research and higher educational institutions are playing a crucial role in bringing different countries on one platform and fostering a culture of federalism among the youths across national boundaries.  

Devdiscourse News DeskDevdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 24-12-2020 11:02 IST | Created: 11-03-2020 17:59 IST
How Africa's pan-regional university networkings fostering an innovation ecosystem
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The social scientists throughout the globe rely on education with an emphasis on basic education to address contemporary social problems and trigger social transformations. However, Africa is silently fostering a new model of socio-economic and political transformation through high-standard training and research. Even as the continent is divided into over 54 nations, the intellectual class is successfully running pan-regional networks of research and higher education that are producing cadres of researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Besides, out of the box ideas are cautiously being added in those pan-regional networks.

These associations and their member institutions/ universities are not orthodox or self-centred but highly dynamic and vibrant in their approach. Despite Africa having only 39.6 per cent internet users against a non-African global average of 62.7 per cent, these institutions imbibe new ideas from throughout the world. According to the recent internet user statistics, internet access is confined to less than one-fourth population of several countries with Eritrea at the lowest with just 1.3 per cent. Furthermore, only 4.8 per cent population in Western Sahara uses the internet which is 5.3 per cent in Burundi and the Central Africa Republic, 6.5 per cent in Chad and the highest in Kenya where 89.9 per cent people use the internet.  However, pan-regional research and higher education institutions in Africa have successfully implemented projects to enhance and constitute centers of excellence to address future problems and meet the needs of future jobs. The role of these prominent Pan-African research and higher education networks is highly crucial for the development of the continent.   

Pan African University

Pan African University (PAU) was officially launched in by African Union Commission (AUC), an association of 55 African countries, in 2011 with an aim to exemplify excellence, enhance the attractiveness and global competitiveness of African higher education and research and establish the African University at the core of Africa’s development. Within the five years, the PAU produced 643 graduates (462 men and 181 women) from 46 countries in addition to 27 PhDs and 616 post-graduates

The university offers full scholarships to all students enrolled in its programmes following a competitive admissions process. Besides, the educational expenses the scholarship includes a decent stipend for Post Graduate and PhD scholars.  Interestingly, PAU neither has its own campus nor plans to do so. It operates through host universities in different countries by opening centers of excellence on meticulously chosen thematic areas of knowledge as a key to the development of Africa and attainment of the vision of the African Union. Presently, PAU has five institutes – Water and Energy Sciences (including Climate Change) (PAUWES, Algeria); Basic Science, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI, Kenya); Life and Earth Sciences (including Health and Agriculture) (PAULESI, Nigeria); Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences (PAUGHSS, Cameroon); and Space Sciences (PAUSS, South Africa). PAU reportedly has a network of 55 universities selected on the basis of their excellence from throughout the sub-regions in Africa to provide an international standard of education, training and research facilities to meritorious African students across nationalities.  

Most recently, the PAUGHSS hosted at University of Yaoundé II, Cameroon has invited international proposals to set up Innovation Centers of Excellence (CoEs) in three campuses – Ibadan (Nigeria), Yaounde (Cameroon) and Nairobi (Kenya) to provide high standard entrepreneurship training to African youths in line to the fourth industrial revolution.

Association of African Universities (AAU)

Established with 34 member universities in 1963, the AAU presently has 376 universities of 46 African countries under its umbrella. It is presently, running nine Pan-African projects in highly relevant areas of higher education, training and research. They are – Africa Centers of Excellence, AfriQAN, Academic Staff Exchange, Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA), Database of African Theses and Dissertations-Research (DATAD-R), Harmonization of African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation (HAQAA), AFREN (Research and Education Networking Unit), and Small Grants for Dissertations and Theses Program. Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) is the flagship project of the World Bank to which AAU is one of the key regional facilitation partners. The first phase of the project ACE I was implemented in 22 selected research centers while ACE II (24 institutions) and ACE Impact (43 institutions) are under operation.


Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) was launched in 2013 with an aim to strengthen science, technology and engineering capability in Sub-Saharan Africa that constitutes 46 of the 54 African countries. PASET also operates with the help of host universities in its member countries. Presently, it has about 10 member universities and aims to expand and produce 10,000 PhDs by 2024. In such a short span of time, more than 25 African countries, as well as representatives of Brazil, China, India, Japan and Korea, have participated in PASET’s various activities. Besides capacity building, PASET is working on the broad principles of public-private partnership in education by imbibing the best practices from throughout the world. PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) provides scholarships to the research scholars through various partner universities to the students of Sub Saharan Africa with an aim to create a critical mass of highly skilled scientists, professionals and innovators in the Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (ASET) fields. 

The Way Ahead

The list of pan-regional educational associations is Africa is too long. It includes, but not limited to, Association of International Schools in Africa, Association for the Development of Education in Africa, African Engineering Education Association and Association of African Planning Schools etc.

In the intellectual world, Africa is often referred to as a place of poor people, conflicts and divisions. But this seems one side of the story. The way the intellectual and academic class of Africa is fostering knowledge as a uniting force for the entire continent is a classic case to showcase the power of knowledge. Such pan-continental or pan-subcontinental educational associations are rare in other parts of the world. If applied by the academicians of other continents also, such associations may help in making the planet a better place for future generations.

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