There is a general recognition that economic growth and global competitiveness are increasingly driven by knowledge and that universities play a key role in that context. There is also evidence that rapid advances in science and technology (S&T) across many areas—from information and communication technologies (ICT) to biotechnology to new materials—provide great potential for countries to accelerate and strengthen their economic development.
The NMI’s initiative by-passed existing SSA institutions to avoid the high transaction costs involved with changing ingrained cultures within regulatory frameworks which may have required a protracted consultation and communication campaign. NMI has played and continues to play a key catalytic role to gather international support by setting strict eligibility criteria for the establishment of the centers of excellence in higher education for S&T and pegging the requirements for such center to the best practices of research universities around the world that include:
- a concentration of talent (top level faculty, students of a high caliber and a first rate administrative staff) and a good academic program;
- good quality infrastructure (physical infrastructure and well-equipped research laboratories);
- adequate resources to fund both the talent and the infrastructure; and
- good governance which is necessary for top talent, infrastructure and resources to be utilized optimally.
In so doing, NMI’s role has been: to provide policy advice and analytical work; to provide Technical assistance guidance to help identify possible options of affordability and define specific niche and mission for the centers; to facilitate and broker to help exposure to relevant international experience including linking up with foreign partner institutions; and to help develop an integrated system of research and technology-oriented institutions at the regional and continental basis. As proof of the success achieved, many African universities are sending their students to NMI centers for post-doctoral work and PhD degrees, and the Zimbabwean government has requested that the NMI help establish a new center there focused on mining and minerals, a key sector in Southern Africa.