Africa’s science and technology sector set for big boost

Harare – Africa is set to get a boost in the science and technology field through the setting up of the Pan African University.
At present, Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2 457 for Europe and 4 103 for the United States. This shortage of skills has been a major constraint to the continent’s progress in science, technology and innovation.
However, the AfDB has recently approved African Development Fund (ADF) a US$45 million GRANT to support the creation of a Pan African University (PAU). The new university, consisting of five Pan African Institutes, will focus mainly on science, technology and innovation. The AfDB director of Human Development Department, Agnes Soucat, said: “Thousands of students all over Africa will benefit from this project.
“This is truly an amazing regional effort to help African universities achieve world-class status.
“It will increase the pool of African scientists and researchers not only to serve the needs of the continent but to help youth become competitive in international labour markets.” The new university would be a ground-breaking step in strengthening higher education and building human capital in Africa. Africa has been slow to develop its science and technology sectors and commercialise its innovations. Currently, the best African university ranks just 113th globally.
Of the 400 top universities worldwide, only four are in Africa, all of which are in South Africa. Also, while Africa accounts for 13.4 percent of the global population, it produces only 1.1 percent of world scientific knowledge
According to the AfDB, the project will contribute to the skills needed by African countries to add value to their natural resources and enhance competitiveness and youth employment contributing to the AfDB’s overall objectives of inclusive and green growth.
PAU is also major step towards establishing the African Higher Education and Research Space by contributing to ‑ efficient regional higher education governance system, improved quality of higher education at the regional level creating strong links with the labour market, equitable access to quality higher education in science, technology and engineering fields, and increased number of institutions achieving world-class status.
The establishment of the PAU is a response to a request from the African Union for technical assistance and financial resources for the design and operation of a network of hubs of excellence in higher education to help meet the need for education, training and research in five key areas of African development.
Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity as African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth.
The result has been a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.
Meanwhile, it is expected that the PAU will establish an academic network of already existing post-graduate and research institutions intended to serve all countries on the continent.
Consisting of five thematic institutes based in East, West, Central, North and Southern Africa -the PAU will deliver programs in basic sciences, technology and innovation (East Africa), earth and life sciences including health and agriculture (West Africa), governance, humanities and social sciences (Central Africa), water and energy sciences including climate change (North Africa) and space sciences (Southern Africa).
The project will also help set up the governance structure of the PAU at central and country levels as well as academic and research capacity.
The first three PAU thematic institutes – Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation will be based in Kenya, while the Institute for Life and Earth Sciences will be based in Nigeria and Cameroon will be the host to Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences.

August 2013
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