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Vice Chancellor: Innovation, Research key drivers of growth  

Egerton University Vice-Chancellor Professor Isaac Kibwage has stated that research holds the key to unlocking the country’s potential while urging training institutions to embrace innovation as this would boost skills development.

He said institutions of higher learning carry a grave responsibility as a catalyst for socio-economic development through the creation of new knowledge, research and innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship, and the eventual commercialization of outputs emanating from these initiatives.

Professor Kibwage indicated that it is vital and urgent that Kenyan institutions endeavour to inculcate an entrepreneurial mindset among students to not only make them ready for the job market but more importantly to catalyze a paradigm shift from seeking formal employment to being job creators and employers by utilizing their creative and innovative abilities.

Speaking at the main Njoro campus on his return from Washington DC (USA) where Egerton University participated in the 2022 launch of the Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report, which was held on October 4th this year, the Vice Chancellor revealed that his institution had signed an academic partnership with Virginia Tech University of the United States of America aimed at deepening research and capacity building collaboration with a focus on joint fundraising towards research and outreach in agriculture.

Professor Kibwage also delivered a keynote address during Virginia Tech University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Symposium that was convened on October 6, this year. The theme of the Symposium was; Extension and Community Engaged Higher Education: Lessons from Kenya, Uganda, Senegal and the US.

Established in the year 1872, Virginia Tech University manages a research portfolio of $522 million (Sh63.12 billion) placing it among the top 50 universities in the U.S. for total research expenditures.

Virginia Tech, also referred to as a public land-grant research university offers 280 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to some 34,400 students.

While acknowledging that Science, Technology and Innovations are major drivers and enablers of social and economic transformation, the Vice Chancellor pointed out that applying knowledge and innovation is necessary to attain sustainable economic growth and competitiveness under the emerging challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and its adverse effects on the social and economic fabric of the country and negative impact of climate change.

He noted the importance of research collaborations across the globe as they offered great cross-learning opportunities for researchers to learn and engage.

“It is time research takes the centre-stage in every university,” said Professor Kibwage

Though Universities in Africa are a critical catalyst in advancing the continent’s innovation efforts due to their wealth in intellectual capital and ability to generate and attract talent, underfunding has been a major stumbling block to the realisation of these objectives.

The World Intellectual Property Organization indicates that creative industries in Kenya contribute more than 5 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Kenya is ranked third in research expenditure in Sub-Saharan Africa. In June this year the National Treasury advised institutions of higher learning to seek alternative sources of funds instead of solely depending on the Exchequer to finance their operations. In the 2021/2022 financial year, they received Sh76.3 billion but later sought additional funding.

A number of reasons have been given for the sorry financial state of these seats of learning. One is the dwindling allocations from the Treasury and the second is declining student enrolment.

While noting that research accelerates innovation, the Vice Chancellor observed that countries that embrace it have secured a favorable position in a knowledge-intensive, globally competitive marketplace.

Experts have recommended that innovative technologies incubated in research labs and businesses should focus on the key sectors of the economy, among them agriculture, tourism, ICT, and manufacturing.

Professor Kibwage urged scholars and researchers to forge a powerful collaboration with the business sector to translate research findings into industries to create wealth and jobs. To achieve this, he said African universities should become the springboards of economic development in the continent.

Kenyan universities, he added, still need to play a more active role in supporting an innovation ecosystem, especially through recognition of innovations that can be patented.

Silicon Valley is a world nerve centre that owes its evolution and development to research and technology from Stanford University.

Kenya’s Vision 2030, added the don, recognizes the key role that science, technology and innovation will play in driving development, social transformation, and international competitiveness. Additionally, Sustainable Development Goals can only be achieved by the assiduous application of scientific knowledge to solve problems.

By Anne Mwale

 

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