Training future leaders of sustainable development

23 May 2022
With the support of Louis Dreyfus Foundation, several other donors and industrial companies with presence in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ashesi University in Ghana and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zürich) have launched a joint Master's Programme in Mechatronic Engineering targeted at young talented students from the region.

In 2021, LDF established a new partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zürich), Ashesi University in Ghana and ETH Foundation to support their joint Master's Program in Mechatronic Engineering. This program emerged from the need for skilled engineers with leadership potential to drive social and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. In line with LDF’s focus on education, this programme creates an opportunity for young talented students to receive engineering education and training to drive the sustainable industrial development of Africa. The aim is to prepare them for leading roles in the region working on production and automation in a variety of sectors including food production and security.

Ashesi University, located in Ghana’s capital Accra, focuses on providing higher technical education, imparting leadership skills and mastering of sustainable development principles. The university ranks first in Ghana and ninth in Africa (2020 Times Higher Education Impact Ranking), and in 2017 won the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) award. Currently, it has approximately 1,200 students, of which nearly half are women. 

The Master's Program in Mechatronic Engineering is the first Master’s program offered by Ashesi University, filling an important gap in its academic curriculum and paving the way for the launch of a doctoral programme at a later stage. During the current initial phase, the aim of the collaboration with ETH Zurich is to set up a long-lasting organizational structure that will subsequently allow Ashesi University to independently run the program. Moreover, the presence of ETH’s lecturers at the university and the implementation of “tandem teaching” will help build long-term relationships between faculty scholars and facilitate knowledge-sharing between the two establishments beyond the initial phase.

This joint project offers an interdisciplinary mechatronics degree program at the intersection of mechanical and electrical engineering, tailored to answering the local need for industrial transformation coupled with sustainable development. 

“The program’s curriculum includes knowledge in the key topics of automation and production engineering, but also mathematics, physics, and quantitative techniques. The aim is to develop a better understanding of mechatronics applications in a wide range of industry sectors, with a focus on agricultural transformation and food production. In addition, students are taught non-technical subjects such as development economics, sustainability, and public policy, as well as project and financial management. They are also trained in leadership skills.” – explains Prof. Edoardo Mazza, the Program Director.

Another key characteristic of this program is the collaboration with global companies and foundations operating in sub-Saharan Africa. By providing expertise, scholarships and job-placements, the program offers young students a great opportunity to launch a successful career in the automated manufacturing industry, including agricultural production and transformation. 

We are convinced that thanks to its focus on automation and sustainable development, this program will greatly benefit the agricultural sector of the region. The field of automation is becoming increasingly important in the agricultural sector (e.g. precision agriculture), helping to improve crop production and profits, and to lower the sector’s environmental footprint. In Ghana alone, the agricultural sector contributes to 18.3% of the country’s GDP and employs almost 45% of the workforce, mainly smallholder farmers. Improvements brought by automation apply to both smallholder farming and large-scale plantation operations, thus benefiting a large portion of the population.” – comments Robert Serpollet, the General Manager of the Louis Dreyfus Foundation. 

Overall, the Master's Program in Mechatronic Engineering will help grow Africa's industrial capacity and support agricultural production, whilst equipping talented students with the skills to capitalize on the industrial opportunities emerging across the continent.