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[ADDIS ABABA] Three of the five nodes, or branches, of the Pan-African University (PAU) — a higher education institute first proposed by the African Union (AU) in 2008 — will admit their first students in September.

Jean-Pierre Ezin, AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, announced this month (10 July) that the PAU's Western, Eastern and Central African nodes have recruited a total of 300 students selected out of 1,200 applicants from across the continent.

The students will follow postgraduate courses in selected thematic areas such as life and earth sciences, basic sciences, innovation and technology, humanities and social sciences.

The PAU aims to  make Africa's higher education and research institutions more effective in driving development, while attracting the best intellectual capital from across the globe, including Africans in the diaspora.

After a number of problems, including disagreements over which countries — and which institutes within those countries — should host the nodes, the PAU was formally launched on 14 December 2011.

"PAU will exemplify quality provision of higher education and research, engage the best African intellectual capital and maintain high standards for admission of students; it will be a beacon of quality to be emulated by other African institutions," Ezin said during the July announcement.  

The host institutes — each representing one of Africa's five geographical regions — have been allocated different themes.

Nigeria's University of Ibadan will host the West African institute, specialising in life and earth sciences. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, in Nairobi, will host the East African institute, providing training in basic sciences, innovation and technology.

The University of Yaoundé in Cameroon will teach humanities and social sciences. And the University of Tlemcen in Algeria, host of the North African institute, will offer training in water, energy and climate change sciences.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will choose the host country and university for the fifth node, which will provide specialised training in space science, Ezin explained.

Due to Libya's withdrawal as host — linked to recent political events — student enrolment at the northern node has been delayed until 2013, said Ezin.

PAU funding includes contributions from: the AU Commission (AUC); institute host countries; lead thematic partners; member states; development partners; internally generated funds such as tuition fees; and voluntary contributions from the private sector.

Solomon Zewdu, an information science and technology expert from Ethiopia, said PAU institutes will create high level training opportunities for African students at home, and enable specialisation in their fields of primary interest, with places in high demand.  

"For many African students, it is hard to pursue their dreams in higher education simply because they have either to spend a fortune ... at universities overseas, or wait for rare scholarship opportunities. Hopefully, PAU institutes will make the chance of pursuing specialised training for many African students much easier," Zewdu said.