The starting point for the launch of this initiative is to address the following challenges:
- There is a tangible and growing demand for highly-educated talented African researchers in science and technology, notably to drive Africa’s digital transformation
- There is a need to educate in Africa the next generation of researchers and students and make it possible for them to conduct high-level research, again in Africa, so that they can have economic impact and drive the creation of new businesses for the continent
- For more than six years, EPFL has successfully run a MOOCs4DEV programme, in and for Africa, and has participated in several other Africa-related initiatives.
This has led the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University UM6P in Morocco to approach and partner with EPFL in the design and launch of a programme aiming to address those challenges.
Overall, the “Excellence in Africa” initiative is designed to have a sustainable impact :
through a network of highly-educated junior faculty based in Africa with EPFL professors as their present or former mentors,
by creating the potential for lasting collaborations with African partner institutions
by increasing EPFL’s visibility in Africa, in turn attracting talent and launching new modes of collaboration in research
by accompanying the digital transformation in Africa.
Together, we have designed a programme based on the following three pillars:
1) Junior Faculty Development
This is the center piece of the programme. There are talented young faculty members currently working in African universities who have been educated at top institutions worldwide yet have chosen to work on the African continent, despite frequently suboptimal conditions. These faculty often lack suitable mentoring by senior faculty members in early stages of their career, and furthermore often lack the means (laboratory, computing power, …) to conduct top-level research. This initiative will create tandems of (selected promising) young faculty members at African universities with a professor at EPFL for periods of 4-5 years. The African professor will be invited to spend up to one year in the EPFL professor’s laboratory, in order to jointly develop a research project for the African professor, in collaboration and under the mentorship of the EPFL professor and laboratory. The programme can presently fund up to a total of 20 such Faculty Fellowship grants.
2) 100 PhDs for Africa
Master graduates enrolled at the best universities in Africa will be selected for entry to a PhD mentoring programme, by African thesis supervisors in an African university, preferably one of the programme’s Faculty Fellows, in partnership with an EPFL professor. The African PhD students will be enrolled in Africa but trained under the joint supervision of their home institution and EPFL faculty. The programme only entails the co-direction of PhD theses, not joint degrees. It will fund the PhD candidate’s salary, co-tutoring by EPFL faculty and (funded) access to EPFL scientific infrastructure.
3) Digital education
Digital education is an important way to reach many talented and motivated African students who would otherwise not have access to higher education. Building on EPFL’s proven track record in online education, this initiative will provide the basis for a special track on digital education. The aim is to provide STEM students enrolled in Master and PhD programmes across Africa with access to educational material and tools of the same quality as what is available to students in Switzerland, and which is designed to have relevance to local research programmes and to the needs of African economies.