Universities Should Provide Industrial Solutions for Africa

Published on 27th November 2007

Dr. Suleman H. Okech gives an overview of status of technology development and dissemination by Kenyan Universities using Jomo Kenyatta University of Advanced Technology (JKUAT) as a role model and suggests ways of enhancing and scaling up the developed technologies into industries or industrial solutions.

Introduction

Universities all over the world are known to be the centers for knowledge generation; they are also expected to disseminate the same for social welfare and economic development of the society. However, a number of questions are being raised with regard to the public African Universities: Are they contributing adequately to society? Are they providing an adequate return on the investment made in them? Who is entitled to judge what universities should do, and how well are they performing? Finally, are they well funded to perform this role?

Scientific research holds the key to technology development and innovations and by extension economic growth. This component of the mandate of the Universities in Africa has been given a low profile and hence the questions raised above.

Building Technological Capability 

According to Wanjohi (2006), “creation or establishment of a national technological capability refers to deliberate,  calculated and relentless collective effort by the nationals to design, make or acquire and apply  new or improved ideas, methods, skills, processes, products and services that would considerably change people’s ability to  produce solutions to their collective problems and significantly enhance their collective ability to access affordable goods and services that they require to satisfy their collective and individual basic needs and other necessities of a modern life”.

To increase the Universities’ contribution to develop and transfer technologies in an effective way that would stimulate industrial development, Kenyan universities need to transform themselves into developmental universities. To achieve this, other participants, such as industry and government must be prepared to take on new responsibilities that would challenge Universities to open up for the necessary linkage with industry, Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) and the government. Well crafted dialogue within and outside universities must be initiated. 

In Africa, Universities have the highest concentration of highly trained human resource capacity that should spearhead research, innovate, develop and transfer technologies. This potential has not been adequately exploited due to a number of factors: To begin with, industrial investment in the country is spearheaded by international companies who are dependent on their parent companies’ research in the developed countries. Secondly, universities in Africa tend to work in isolation. Thirdly, there is lack of proper policies that encourage local research and participation of the universities in national development. Finally, low funding. High-level research is costly, and governments are reluctant to funds research. 

Changing role of Universities

The changing role of universities to spearhead industrial development in a society means that the research agendas of universities should be increasingly defined through interaction and negotiation with non-academic parties, in particular government and industry. For this change to be effected in a sustainable way, knowledge generated by the Universities, which was once understood as being a public good will be looked at differently. Private ownership and commercial value of the new knowledge must be considered. This means that:

  • Universities should have the right to claim intellectual property rights over their research findings
  • Universities should adopt more business-focused research strategies
  • Universities should be able to accept restrictions on the publication of research funded by private sponsors
  • University researchers should be allowed to act as paid consultants to outside business enterprises.

JKUAT Industry linkage 

JKUAT is well ahead of most institutions in its move to empower Kenyans with knowledge, innovations and technologies that are a precursor for industrialization. The institution has endeavored to remain relevant in producing the right graduates for the Kenyan job market by collaborating with industries. Job market demands are globally changing daily and unless the University partners with industries in University-Industry linkages, we will not produce relevant graduates. Steps taken at JKUAT to attract and strengthen the above linkage include:

  • An innovation by students from their projects is now mandatory if the students are to earn their engineering degrees during graduation. This is because JKUAT believes that Kenya cannot industrialize without innovation.
  • All students undergo industrial attachment.
  • It is compulsory that each lecturer spends sometime on attachment in relevant industries to acquaint themselves with the changing trends in their fields.
  • The University has developed intellectual property right (IPR) policy that motivates the innovators by giving them a percentage of profits made from commercialization of their innovations.
  • The University has established a commercial company known as JKUAT Enterprises Limited that assists innovators to commercialize their innovations
  • The University has signed a memorandum of understanding with relevant companies to jointly manufacture the innovation products
  • The University has established a policy to train small artisans and sublet production of parts of its innovation products.
  • The University has established a mechanism of following up the performance of its graduates in the industry and engaging  employers on discussions on the reliance of its programmes.

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