UNESCO approves establishment of International Centre of Excellence in Engineering Innovation, Manufacturing and Technology Transfer in Ghana under its auspices

On 22 November, UNESCO’s 193 Member States approved the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Engineering, Innovation, Manufacturing and Technology Transfer in Ghana, during UNESCO’s 41st General Conference in Paris, France.

The centre’s name reflects both its new international role and its reputation for excellence in training and in translating the research done at the university into commercial outcomes. It runs a Master’s Programme in Entrepreneurship and Technology Management, for instance.

Originally established in 1972 as the Technology Consultancy Centre, it was absorbed into the College of Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 2004. Students have been able to access equipment at KNUST for practical training, such as machine shops for prototyping and fabrication, laboratories, ceramic kilns and ovens, cooking stoves and water filters.

As a national centre, it has also developed training manuals and programmes for advanced manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing and plasma technologies.

The centre has also undertaken policy advocacy. It has recommended establishing an automotive manufacturing industry, for instance, and intensifying collaboration between academia, industry and the government sector through the establishment of a technology park that was supported by Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission.

A centre with a subregional reach

The centre will now extend its role by providing cutting-edge engineering services not only within Ghana but across the entire subregion. It will function as a category 2 centre, which means that it will function under the auspices of UNESCO. It will be the first UNESCO category 2 centre in Africa specializing in engineering and only the fifth in the world with this focus, after those established in China (2), Denmark and the Russian Federation.

The centre will remain at KNUST, where it will continue to undertake collaborative research to develop and transfer innovative engineering solutions and manufacturing technology to industry. It will also promote standards in manufacturing and use digital technologies to modernize local manufacturing and industrial practices, including through automation.

The centre will also develop and disseminate research papers, policy briefs and other knowledge products, to inform national and subregional policies on engineering innovation, manufacturing and technology transfer.

The centre will also assist governments in formulating policies for engineering education to nurture the region’s industrial development and bridge the gender gap. Among university graduates, just 16% in engineering, 20% in computer sciences and 27% in natural sciences were women in 2018, according to the UNESCO Science Report (2021). This compares with 61% of graduates in health and welfare and 45% in business and law being women.

One of West Africa’s most developed innovation systems

Ghana has one of West Africa’s most developed national innovation systems, according to the UNESCO Science Report (2015). The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research dates from 1958 and counts 13 specialized institutes for research on crops, animals, food, water and industry. Ghana has institutes specializing in aeronautics, chemistry and metallurgy, according to the Science and Technology Policy (2012) of the Economic Community of West African States, better known as ECOPOST.

Since 2016, the revised National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy has sought to harness science, technology and innovation as the key driver of the transition to a sustainable economic model less dependent on commodity exports, according to the UNESCO Science Report (2021). The latter were dominated in 2017 by gold (49% of exports), crude oil (17%) and unprocessed cocoa products (15%).

The policy outlines strategies for developing the primary sectors of agriculture, health, industry, energy, human settlements, communication and the environment. The government is promoting ‘green’ innovation, such as clean cooking stoves and a minimal use of chemical fertilizers to foster responsible irrigation techniques, according to Ghana’s Voluntary National Review of 2019 mapping its early progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to 2030.

Ghana devoted 0.45% of GDP to research and development in 2017, up from 0.38% in 2010. The National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy commits the government to raising domestic research expenditure to 1% of GDP in the short and medium term by combining contributions from the public and private sectors.

There are plans to set up the Ghana Innovation and Research Commercialisation Centre to serve as a bridge between the government, public research institutions and industry, according to the UNESCO Science Report (2021).

In parallel, the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan will assist in the establishment of technology incubators. Technology incubators provide facilities and/or in-kind support at an early stage of a company’s development.  According to Briter Bridges, Ghana counted 36 active tech hubs, incubators and accelerators in 2020.

In its Voluntary Review, the government reports that one-third (35%) of micro- and small and medium-sized enterprises have already adopted local packaging technologies and that industry adopted 115 research findings in 2017, up from 70 in 2016.

In line with the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan, a Computer Numerical Control Machine Tools Centre is being set up in each of Accra and Kumasi to develop strategic technologies and provide basic infrastructure for engineering innovation.