UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Understanding the key processes of excellence as a prerequisite to establishing academic centres of excellence in Africa Fekadu, Abebaw; Oppenheim, Claire; Manyazewal, Tsegahun; Nislow, Corey; Woldeamanuel, Yimtubezinash; Hailu, Asrat; Belete, Anteneh; Wondimagegn, Dawit; Hanlon, Charlotte; Gebremariam, Tsige; et al.


Background Africa’s economic transformation relies on a radical transformation of its higher education institutions. The establishment of regional higher education Centres of Excellence (CoE) across Africa through a World Bank support aims to stimulate the needed transformation in education and research. However, excellence is a vague, and often indiscriminately used concept in academic circles. More importantly, the manner in which aspiring institutions can achieve academic excellence is described inadequately. The main objective of this paper is to describe the core processes of excellence as a prerequisite to establishing academic CoE in Africa. Methods The paper relies on our collaborative discussions and real-world insight into the pursuit of academic excellence, a narrative review using Pubmed search for a contextual understanding of CoEs in Africa supplemented by a Google search for definitions of CoEs in academic contexts. Results We identified three key, synergistic processes of excellence central to institutionalizing academic CoEs: participatory leadership, knowledge management, and inter-disciplinary collaboration. (1) Participatory leadership encourages innovations to originate from the different parts of the organization, and facilitates ownership as well as a culture of excellence. (2) Centers of Excellence are future-oriented in that they are constantly seeking to achieve best practices, informed by the most up-to-date and cutting-edge research and information available. As such, the process by which centres facilitate the flow of knowledge within and outside the organization, or knowledge management, is critical to their success. (3) Such centres also rely on expertise from different disciplines and ‘engaged’ scholarship. This multidisciplinarity leads to improved research productivity and enhances the production of problem-solving innovations. Conclusion Participatory leadership, knowledge management, and inter-disciplinary collaborations are prerequisites to establishing academic CoEs in Africa. Future studies need to extend our findings to understand the processes key to productivity, competitiveness, institutionalization, and sustainability of academic CoEs in Africa.

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