How higher education can find solutions for people’s hiccups

Academicians, public officials, diplomats and captains of industry seek ways of making research a tool for development in East Africa

FRIDAY November 18, 2022


By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Education and research should consider focusing on the market system existing in East Africa, academicians in the region have been told.

The Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community (EAC) and Regional Development, Dr Kevit Desai, said education and research ought to centre on the bloc’s formidable framework of Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union and Political Federation protocols.

“Research should look at specific policies such as trade and investment to enhance the 17 percent intra-EAC trade, accessibility and relevance of the new customs territory and education capacity requirements for enhancing standardisation programmes,” he said.

Dr Desai was responding to a question Professor Chacha Nyaigotti posed whether the university system in the region was designed to find solutions for ordinary people to live comfortably in the region.

“How does the university system with all the programmes we design try to feature challenges of an ordinary person,” queried Prof Chacha during the Africa Higher Education Research Institute 2022 Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania, recently.

Unlike the higher education mentality that existed during the colonial era, East Africans would feel the presence of the institutions if they interfaced with ordinary persons, he said.

The Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community (EAC) and Regional Development, Dr Kevit Desai, contributes virtually to the Africa Higher Education Research Institute 2022 Conference recently. PHOTO | TWITTER

Africa Higher Education Research Institute (AHERI) had in collaboration with the East African Business Council (EABC), the EAC Secretariat and the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) organised the conference themed Building Partnership to Support Innovation in Higher Education Institutions through Knowledge Diplomacy.

The conference, which was held physically at the EAC seat as well as virtually, attracted academicians, public officials, diplomats and captains of industry from across the region.

The EABC Chief Executive Officer, Mr John Bosco Kalisa, commended AHERI for making research a tool for development in East Africa and Africa at large, the commitment he said drove the council to associate itself with the institute.

“This is because one of our goals is to have research for evidence-based advocacy,” said Mr Kalisa in a speech read on his behalf by the EABC Trade and Policy Adivisor, Mr Adrian Njau.

The EABC has even signed a memorandum of understanding with AHERI to advance research and innovation. “We expect the AHERI series of conferences will contribute to the achievement of the Common Higher Education Area in the region,” he added.

Some of the participants in the Africa Higher Education Research Institute 2022 Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania, recently pose for a group picture. Third Right is the Patron of the institute, Professor Chacha Nyaigotti. PHOTO | PATTY MAGUBIRA

The EAC is through the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) carrying out a Common Higher Education Area whose objectives is to adopt a system of comparable qualifications and to facilitate a system of credit as a proper means for students’ mobility.

The Common Higher Education Area also aims at promoting mobility by overcoming obstacles to the effective free movement and cooperation in higher education, particularly in curricular development and harmonisation of academic programmes, inter-institutional cooperation, mobility schemes, training system and research.

“The conference will bring perspective from regional and international level in studying local solutions for the bloc’s challenges through knowledge diplomacy to strengthen relations among countries,” Mr Kalisa said.

He said the region needed to go a notch further to address a dilemma related to innovation. “The youth, for example, are very innovative, but they lack financial capital to advance their innovation,” explained Mr Kalisa, urging both the public and private sector to support the youth financially for them to realise their innovation dreams.

The EAC is the fastest growing bloc on the continent partly due to an important role the private sector plays in trade and investment, he observed.

The main campus of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. All East Africans in pursuit of law degrees were trained at the university while those in pursuit of engineering were trained at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. The University of Makerere was preserved for medical doctors and social scientists. PHOTO | SMAPSE

“However, it is high time the private sector played a more active role in the innovation and research to find local solutions for the ever-increasing challenges,” admitted Mr Kalisa.

Giving reflections of higher education journey in the region, Prof Chacha said the institutions had sidelined ordinary persons during the colonial regimes whose focus was to produce few highly educated professionals and administrators.

East Africans were trained at Makerere to get degrees from the University of London before the University of East Africa for East Africans and a few Central African countries was established in 1960s.

Students from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zanzibar, Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda were admitted at Makerere which served as the region’s refence point.

Makerere University was the higher education reference point in East and Central Africa during the colonial era. PHOTO | CNS

Just as the defunct EAC signed in 1967 by presidents Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Milton Obote of Uganda was maturing, each country got its own university.

Makerere became the university of Uganda, the University College of Dar es Salaam became the University of Dar es Salaam and the Royal Technical College of Nairobi became the University of Nairobi.

All universities offered similar education although the capacity to offer programmes was low in terms of human and other resources.

Just before independence, the IUCEA was established to ensure the institutions share capacity. As a result, all lawyers in the region were trained at the University of Dar es Salaam, all engineers were trained at the University of Nairobi and all medical doctors and social scientists were trained at Makerere.

“Sitting here is very exciting because it reminds me of how we have transformed our togetherness, sometimes with challenges,” Prof Chacha, the AHERI Patron, recalls.

When the defunct EAC was revived in late 1990s, Prof Chacha serve as the IUCEA secretaryΩ

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