Engineers from Africa for Africa

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On the left is the Asheshi University in Ghana, on the right is the main buildin
On the left is the Asheshi University in Ghana, on the right is the main building of ETH Zurich. (Photograph: ETH Zurich)

Well-trained, dedicated engineers from Africa will play an increasing role in industrial development in sub-Saharan Africa. This is what has inspired ETH Zurich to join forces with Ashesi University in Ghana and Swiss companies ABB, BarryCallebaut, Bühler, Lafarge-Holcim and Nestlé to co-present a new Master’s degree programme.

Sustainable development across the globe hinges on the African continent - for nowhere else will population growth be as rapid in the years to come. Qualified engineers are needed -from Africa, for Africa- to promote sustainable patterns of industrial development. Under the ETH for Development (ETH4D) initiative, ETH Zurich together with Ashesi University near Accra in Ghana and a number of industrial partners is now developing a new Master’s programme for students from sub-Saharan Africa.

Harnessing ideas and expertise

Lecturers and professors from Ashesi University and ETH will teach in tandem, while helping Ashesi to build capacity and set up its first Master’s degree programme. At the same time, ETH will be learning about the everyday life and needs of students from sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to donor funding raised through the ETH Foundation, industrial partners ABB, BarryCallebaut, Bühler, LafargeHolcim and Nestlé are supporting this pioneering project through funding and scholarships. In addition, the internships and career opportunities being offered at their African branches will equip graduates with the skills needed by the local labour market.

As ETH Rector Sarah Springman asserts: -We want this Master to have a real impact on sustainable development. We-re drawing here on the different skills and perspectives of the project parties - ETH, Ashesi and partners from industry - as we all want to learn from each other to build a better and more integrated educational offering that can flourish independently in the future-.

The joint degree programme is due to begin in the autumn semester 2021, subject to Covid-19. Teaching will be conducted in blocks at Ashesi University. Each year, 25 to 30 students will join the Master’s programme from all over sub-Saharan Africa; candidates will be selected on the basis of their knowledge, skills, motivation and leadership potential.

The core subjects correspond to those of a Master in Mechatronics Engineering and will include aspects of automisation, production and robotics, supplemented by interdisciplinary knowledge in the design, optimisation, control and management of production processes, machines and systems. Less technical, but nonetheless important, subjects, such as Leadership, Corporate Responsibility, Sustainable Engineering and an Introduction to Development Economics, are on the curriculum too.

Jumpstarting with a double Master

Initially, the Master’s programme will last three years and comprise a Master of Science (MSc) from Ashesi and a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) from ETH Zurich. Graduates of the first five cohorts will thus receive a degree from ETH and one from Ashesi. Thereafter, the collaboration should ultimately lead to an independent, two-year MSc from Ashesi University.

During the combined programme, ETH lecturers will teach in Ghana and help to build up the Ashesi Master. The idea is that ETH will withdraw after seven years, leaving Ashesi University to run the programme independently.

This is a completely fresh approach in higher education that seeks to advance engineering education without creating dependencies. Should it be successful, it may well form a blueprint for similar initiatives in the future.

ETH for Development

ETH for Development (ETH4D) is an interdisciplinary initiative pioneered by ETH Zurich that aims to deploy technological innovation for sustainable global growth and to train future leaders of sustainable development. Listen to the ETH podcast on this topic.

Doors are open for industrial partners

We are looking for companies that are operational in sub-Saharan Africa, or those wanting to enter this market and strengthen their resources in Africa. Partners will gain access to well-trained engineers and future managers from the region. They will support the programme financially and offer students scholarships, internships and mentoring programmes.

Michael Walther