Early this week, the Konza team kicked off a very important process in the view of the development of the Konza City. The launch of the architectural design and development of the curriculum for the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science & Technology marked an important phase on process of establishing a graduate only technology university at Konza City. Here is a little background on this. Back in November 2017, the Government of Kenya signed a deal with South Korea Government for a loan of Ksh.9.8 Billion to finance the establishment of the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The Ministry of Education then went ahead to appoint a consortium of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Architects & Engineering Co. Ltd. and SUNJIN Engineering & Architecture CO. Ltd to undertake the architectural design and curriculum design for the University.
The consortium is now getting down to work and will model the Kenya-KAIST after the Korean Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (Korea- KAIST) whose design model is a research focused university that fosters elite human resources in science and technology needed by the nation.
“The adoption of the Korea-KAIST model is deliberate. We want to build a nurturing environment for graduate students not only in Kenya but also in East Africa, that will see an innovative growth, rallied by science, in the region. A highly-educated nation is paramount to its economic, social and political success, it is therefore our hope that this new venture will be embraced by the people of Kenya,” said Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA) Chairman Reuben Mutiso.
The Government and the Konza team believe that Kenya -KAIST will provide high-quality education in Science and Technology in order to generate high-skilled engineers and scientists with both theory and practical knowledge, and to conduct socially relevant research and development (R&D), to improve national competitiveness and transform Kenya into an industrializing middle-income country as envisioned in Kenya Vision 2030 agenda.
And that left me thinking, yes Korea has done remarkably well and trying to copy their model is not a bad thing. But we also know how many times Kenyan officials have tried to bench mark things with Asian Tigers over the years without any tangible results. The reality is Kenya admire the progress of some these countries but not enough effort and work is put in place to move country towards the same direction. From that perspective, while attending the launch event, I kept on wondering what will make this concept work while we currently have universities in Kenya that are ranked low when comes to research and other human education metrics. My friend and part time writer on this website Mr. Fredrick Ombako said the following while commenting on the latest Webometrics Index which ranks universities across the world
“When our best ranks 990th globally, in a simple metric as web presence, you know you’re in deep shit”
So what is wrong with the current Kenyan university system. Why is that we are not doing enough research in our universities, and what make us think that this will work better with the Kenya-KAIST. Recently, I had a conversation by a lecturer from one of the public universities about this and on his opinion, most Kenyan Government officials do not believe in research. People within Government cycle want quick fixes, and research take time and also need consistent investment whether you are getting immediate results or not. To illustrate his point, he mentioned that recently there was money for research within the ministry of Education but the CS of Education thought that is not a priority and the money was moved.
The Kenya-KAIST concept is great but you have to remember that it is under ministry of education and not Korea. By that I mean, given that the Government at the moment do not take research seriously it is naïve to think that when Kenya-KAIST becomes a reality then they will change suddenly and start investing in research. Listening to guys from Korea, give the story of their country, then you see that they did not succeed through wishful thinking but through visionary leadership and commitment from all.
The PS of ICT Jerome Ochieng, while speaking at the ceremony captured it well. He said that as a country, we rank poorly in the number of registered patents and very few universities have commercial spin-offs that they can identify with. This can be largely attributed to lack of strong Technology Transfer Offices that are to naturally focus on building strong collaboration between the industry and universities.
Contrast the ICT PS statement with the Koreans talking about being ranked the first in the world when comes to patent registrations.
Meanwhile the concept of having a university at Konza is a great news for the Konza City development and Konza Technopolis Development Authority. And that is regardless of whether the university will end up being what it is envisioned to be or not. I will write more on this on my next article but in summary I think this will change the momentum of the Konza City as a project.
The University will have three faculties whose core programme will include; Mechanical Electrical and ICT engineering, Chemical Civil and Agriculture; engineering/biotechnology and Basic science education such as math’s and physics.