The CAPESA: Building Bridges in Statistics between Africa and France
African Statistics Schools have a reputation for excellence, which is partly due to the work of the CAPESA (Center for Support of African Statistics Schools). The CAPESA’s mission goes from technical support all the way to student selection. In Yaoundé, Dakar, or Abidjan, the CAPESA also helps bridge the gaps between Africa and France through continuing education and research.
While looking over the list of foreign students accepted to ENSAI, Professor François Coquet, who took the reins of the CAPESA in 2017, beams with enthusiasm. “This year, we have a student from ENSEA Abidjan who was awarded the prestigious Eiffel Scholarship for Excellence, which is a testament to the quality of the education of our partner in Abidjan.” The CAPESA is responsible for organizing the competitive admissions exams for ISSEA in Yaoundé, ENSAE in Dakar, and ENSEA in Abidjan. It was created nearly 15 years ago by INSEE (France’s National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies) and is the result of the goodwill and confidence that has been created since cooperation began in the 1960s and 1970s, when France helped Francophone countries develop their own systems for statistical production. Beyond its reputation for operational efficiency, the CAPESA provides support to guarantee integrity and fairness in the selection process. “6000 candidates, from 20 Francophone African countries, take the admissions exams every year. That means the organization has to be perfect,” according to Laure Miambaye Loungoumouka, who helps organize the competitive exams used for recruitment. “Admissions are highly selective: only 5% of candidates are accepted, which means that the students who go on to study in the schools in Yaoundé, Dakar, or Abidjan have a very high level,” according to François Coquet.
A Collective Effort between ENSAI & ENSAE
Every year, ENSAI & ENSAE each recruit 5 to 10 students from their “sister schools” in Africa. Graduates in either the Statistical Engineering (ITS) or Statistical Engineering and Economics (ISE) leave their continent and come to France for an additional 2 years of study. ENSAI & ENSAE work together to ensure these students have the best possible experience abroad. Special grants have been put in place to help those in need. These bright and extremely motivated students take advantage of the dynamic professional ecosystem that surrounds the two schools and go on to work for international firms. While most of them work in France, many large companies have strategic development interests linked with Africa. This sometimes leads to interesting professional opportunities for some to return to their home countries in Africa.
“As in universities around the globe, these African schools
have increased efforts to develop their research.”
CAPESA’s mission goes beyond simply organizing competitive admissions exams. The center also works very actively to improve teaching. As an external evaluator, François Coquet is involved in program content evolution. Since 2018, ENSAI and ENSAE have both signed dual degree agreements with ISSEA, ENSAE, and ENSEA for students from the Engineer Statistician Economist (ISE) programs. With these new agreements, students will study two years in Africa and two in France in order to obtain two degrees. For François Coquet, “it demonstrates mutual recognition of the quality of the programs and will attract even more new candidates.” ENSEA Abidjan was recently named as an “African Center of Excellence*”, which demonstrates the schools’ growing reputations. The World Bank awarded this label to 19 institutions in central and western Africa, which includes 150 million dollars in funding to accelerate the transformation of teaching science and technology on the continent. Adding a new school from Benin to this network is under consideration.
Working toward a PhD
The CAPESA is exploring new possibilities for cooperation. “As in schools around the globe, these African schools have increased efforts to develop their research,” explains François Coquet. Translation: in the not too distant future a doctoral school will be created. In the meantime, two doctoral students will be co-sponsored by ENSAE Dakar and ENSAI. Continuing Education is also a potential area for cooperation, with ENSAE-ENSAI Formation Continue helping the African schools develop their own continuing education services.
For François Coquet, the situation is clear: “We are entering a new period in which we must strengthen our ties and broaden the scope of our cooperation to help build a solid academic network in Africa and encourage intra-African mobility.” The future is promising.
*ENSEA Abidjan was awarded this label in the name of the three schools from Abidjan, Dakar, and Yaoundé.
The CAPESA website: http://capesa.ensai.fr/