The Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu has broken the grounds for the construction of a building for the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), at the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BCMB), College of Basic and Applied Sciences (CBAS).
The Centre was awarded $8,000,000.00 by the World Bank in November 2013 to provide Masters, PhD training, and targeted short-courses in Cell & Molecular Biology, conduct applied research into biology and pathogenesis of tropical diseases and increase research output and innovation by enhancing collaboration among biomedical scientists and industry/private sector leaders in the sub-region. In addition, WACCBIP is further supported by a Wellcome Trust Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa award of $7,823,628.00 to strengthen its research, expand its regional network beyond West Africa, train postdoctoral fellows and provide additional PhD fellowships.
The Vice Chancellor was joined at the grounding-breaking ceremony by the World Bank Co-Task Team Leader for the ACE Project, Mrs. Eunice Ackwerh, and the Head, Planning, Research and Policy Development at the National Council on Tertiary Education (NCTE), Dr. Emmanuel Newman. The Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor for Office of Research, Innovation and Development (ORID), Rev. Prof. Cephas Omenyo, the Provost of CBAS, Prof. Daniel K. Asiedu, the Director of NMIMR, Prof Kwadwo Koram and the Director of the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), Prof Eric Y. Danquah attended the ceremony. Other University officials present included the acting Dean of the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Prof Robert K. Adaboh, the Director of Physical Development and Municipal Services Directorate (PDMSD), Mr. Charles Kofinti, as well as Heads of Departments in the School of Biological Sciences.
Welcoming the Vice chancellor and other guests to the ceremony, the Director of WACCBIP and Head of BCMB, Prof Gordon A. Awandare noted that in just two years, WACCBIP has already made a significant impact on graduate training and research at BCMB. He said the number of Masters and PhD students at the department has increased from less than 20 in 2013 to the current number of 91. The Centre has awarded a total of $3,544,993.00 as scholarships, including $288,400.00 to MPhil students and $2,056,593.00 to PhD students, to support costs of tuition fees, research expenses and stipend. The centre has also strengthened its research facilities by investing $1,193,595.96 to procure lab equipment such as a Flow cytometer, Gel imager, Biosafety cabinets, Centrifuges, etc as well as furniture, computers and vehicles. WACCBIP has also provided dedicated lecture rooms for Masters and PhD students, a postdoctoral fellows’ office and Bioinformatics laboratory with high-capacity desktop computers for analysis of genomic data.
Prof. Awandare explained that with an additional workforce of 41 employees, and a growing number of students, there was the need to expand on the existing infrastructure at BCMB to cater to the needs of the Centre.
The construction of this building will contribute to attaining a key objective of the project, which is to improve the teaching and learning environment. This 1.4 million Ghana Cedi facility will comprise a large seminar room, lecture rooms, offices, a Bioinformatics lab, a student resource center, and a cold room.
The Provost of CBAS, Prof Asiedu, commended the leadership of WACCBIP for their successes in winning competitive grants and bringing in resources to help fill the gap left by the dwindling government subventions. He was glad that the new building will provide additional facilities, which other departments in the College would benefit from. He noted as a result of the WACCBIP projects, BCMB now has the highest number of graduate students in the College, which is as a result of the fellowships that WACCBIP provides to support the students. In addition, Prof Asiedu alluded to the fact that WACCBIP has employed Research Assistants and Teaching Assistants to compensate for the void left by the freeze on government employment. Mrs. Ackwerh of the World Bank on her part said “We at the World Bank are delighted at the progress made by the Centres of Excellence at the University of Ghana and we are confident that this new facility will promote regional specialization in the biosciences and further strengthen capacity of WACCBIP to deliver quality training and applied research,”
While congratulating the University for the progress made in winning the ACE projects, Dr. Newman of the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) also urged the Vice Chancellor to provide additional investment in the Centre to ensure sustainability.
The Vice Chancellor corroborated the assertion made by the representative of the NCTE on the need for government to match the effort made by the external donors in the provision of resources for teaching and learning. He lauded the effort made by the faculty in BCMB and challenged other departments to emulate this example. He further commended WACCBIP for the progress made in building a center of excellence in line with the vision of the University of becoming a research-intensive University as part of its nine strategic priority areas. He said “The construction of this new extension block will go a long way in fostering the intellectual climate to stimulate cutting edge research and public engagement in the biosciences.”
The groundbreaking ceremony was marked by the planting of trees at the project site by the Vice Chancellor and Director of WACCBIP, supported by the Provost of CBAS and the Director of NMIMR.
Prof. Awandare took the guests on a tour of WACCBIP/BCMB laboratories to brief them of equipment procured for training and research.