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Vivian becomes an engineer

13.06.2018 - Article

In Africa, only eight percent of school graduates go on to university, far less than the global average. An initiative promoted by KfW intends to improve Africa's higher education landscape.

Vivian Nmwadiaru Ogechi is a gifted young woman from Nigeria with ideal prospects for her academic career. She could have stayed in Lagos or gone to the United Kingdom after completing her bachelor’s degree. Presumably, she would also have had other options, had she looked further. Instead, Vivian chose Algeria.

Vivian (second from left) preparing a topic in groupwork.
Vivian (second from left) preparing a topic in groupwork.© KfW

The transition could not have been more drastic: Vivian is a Christian, while Algeria is a predominantly Muslim country. English is spoken in Nigeria, while French is spoken in Algeria. Lagos is a metropolis with millions of inhabitants, while her new adopted home is a provincial capital. Despite all these differences, the 25-year-old chose to work on her master’s degree at the university in Tlemcen.

Why? Because the institute she chose at the Pan African University (PAU) is a unique place of opportunity on the African continent. Vivian found what she was searching for here: a two-year interdisciplinary and internationally orientated engineering programme including a full scholarship. She did her research: “This is the only place in Africa that you can find a course of study this broad and diverse."

So it did not take Vivian long to decide, even though the programme was still in development and there were not many student reviews to base her decision on. But she liked the range of courses, she had support from her family, and she was excited about the completely new experience: “Looking beyond your own nose can’t hurt.”

She did not regret her decision, even if the first weeks in Algeria were challenging due to the foreign language, religion and culture. But the courses were in English and the student community helped her overcome all the initial difficulties. “I was warmly received right from the start and my network has expanded in wonderful ways,” Vivian recalls.

She was part of a small group of 16 fellow students. Five of them were women and came from all around Africa: two from Nigeria, two from Uganda, and the other twelve were each from a different African country. Promoting the idea of pan-Africanism and advancing Africa internationally as a whole is also part of PAU.

The programme is challenging. Official courses take place from 8 am to 5 pm during the week. Afterwards, there is work for the students to do on the computer on their own. Vivian and her fellow students create presentations, do homework, write essays, perform analyses and calculations "until you can't keep your eyes open anymore."

PAU students come from all around Africa.
PAU students come from all around Africa.© KfW

Vivian's school trains students to become engineers and is called PAUWES, which stands for “Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences”.

In the disciplines of water or energy, they learn everything about technology, economics and politics. Physics calculations are just as much a part of the programme as the basics of project management, energy scenarios for Africa or African history.

Practical courses in writing and communication techniques supplement the curriculum. In the end, the graduates earn a master’s degree in Engineering or, alternatively, Water Engineering. According to Vivian: “The programme is very intense, but you can learn faster there than anywhere else. Not even international institutions can provide that.”

The Nigerian's decision to attend PAUWES and to specialise in energy issues was a very deliberate one. She thinks this course of study is particularly promising for herself and for Africa — a continent where only about a third of the nearly 900 million inhabitants have access to electricity. Further economic development on the continent is also entirely dependent on whether and how quickly it can provide more — and sustainable — energy.

Vivian also thought about studying medicine or mathematics. As she was a bright child, she attended preschool at the early age of two. She finished secondary school at 15 and began her university career right after that. But at some point, it became clear that she wanted to become an engineer.

The plan is for PAU to counteract the general lack of higher education institutions and good university education in Africa.
The plan is for PAU to counteract the general lack of higher education institutions and good university education in Africa.© KfW

Today she is very satisfied with her decision; the 25-year-old recently received her master’s degree from PAUWES as part of the second graduating class. She would like to devote some of her career to teaching or research, and some to working in the private sector. In her homeland Nigeria, renewable energy sources have not played a significant role up to now; the country has relied on its significant deposits of fossil resources for many years. This is gradually expected to change. “Renewables are still at a fledgling stage there, so there is a lot to do,” says Vivian.

But before she jumps into professional life, Vivian would still like to obtain a doctorate. That is what she is currently applying for — and she is bridging the time gap with a “detour” to PAU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa near the African Union building. Another new place and another new beginning. But for Vivian, learning is a lifelong process and it means “continually leaving your own comfort zone — otherwise you don't make progress.” In the case of her experience at PAUWES, her maxim seems to have worked.

An institution with a future

PAUWES (Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy) is part of an excellence initiative by the African Union, which is establishing six interlinked scientific centres in Africa. They operate under the label PAU (Pan African Union) and are intended to advance Africa internationally and as a continent. PAU was established in 2011 and it began operating in 2013.

Specialising in energy issues bodes particularly well for the future.
Specialising in energy issues bodes particularly well for the future.© KfW

It is intended to create a science network through PAU that has been lacking in Africa up to now. Also, the plan is for PAU to counteract the general lack of higher education institutions and good university education in Africa. Only one African university numbers among the world’s 200 best universities. Only five are among the best 500 — four of which are in South Africa and one in Uganda. To date, only about 8 percent of a given age cohort in Africa goes on to study at tertiary level; the global average is 22 percent. The need to catch up is huge.

The PAU headquarters are located at the seat of the African Union in Addis Ababa. There is also an institute for agriculture and technology in Kenya (PAUSTI), one for health and agriculture (PAULESI) in Nigeria, for social sciences and politics in Cameroon (PAUGHSS), and one for water and energy sciences in Algeria (PAUWES). A further branch is currently in the pipeline for space sciences in South Africa.

KfW supported the establishment of the Pan African University from the outset. This funding on behalf of the German Government primarily supported the institute in Algeria because it drives sustainable development in Africa with its special focus. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development provided 20 Million Euro for PAUWES, and this amount was financed by KfW. Furthermore, the GIZ advises the institute and the African Union.

© KfW