Kenyans institutions of higher learning are struggling to find means to teach work and industry skills to their students in preparation for entering the dynamic job market after their graduation.
In the past, the institutions have been accused of producing graduates who are reflectors of academic theories as opposed to producing thinkers.
Pundits have been accusing them of missing the mark in nurturing students who are educated to be masters of labour, and not slaves of labour.
But, the ground is shifting – as Kenya’s institution are struggling for more relevancy. Universities are now aiming to achieve resonance with industry needs as well as positioning themselves to produce job creators, entrepreneurs, innovators and creators.
At the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering a science park dubbed as a Fabrication Laboratory (Fablab), a venture with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is currently operational – giving students and any Kenyan with a scientific and technological idea, the opportunity to mould it in the Fablab. The facility is equipped with MIT and the helpful minds of engineering lecturers to aid prototypes that can be developed into commercial products.
This has seen six companies registered by the students, says Dr Kamau Gachigi the Chairman and Coordinator of the Science and Technology Park Steering Committee. Some of them have started reaping the fruits from the operational enterprises they have set up, Dr Kamau explains.
Kenyatta University (KU) has established a Business Innovation and Incubation Centre to help its students become entrepreneurs.
KU Vice Chancellor, Prof Olive Mugenda says they are out to give students space as well as provide internet and seed money for them to start their own business. “Their products will then be rolled in the market place between six months and one year,” Prof Mugenda says.
The University of Eastern Africa, Baraton (UEAB) has been offering work study programmes since it was established. The work – study programme enables students to work in various departments within the institution to foot part of their school fees.
Integrating work and study, UEAB says, enables students to “contemplate the great facts of duty and destiny, and the mind will expand and strengthen. Instead of educated weaklings, institutions of learning may send forth men strong to think and to act, men who are masters and not slaves of circumstances, men who possess breadth of mind, clearness of thought, and the courage of their convictions.”
The National Council for Science and Technology and the British Council are in an agreement to expand the Africa Knowledge Transfer Partnership (AKTP) to provide opportunities for businesses improvement in competitiveness and productivity through a better use of higher education knowledge, technology and expertise.
The Ministry for Higher Education, Science and Technology says the programme will encourage economic growth through technology transfer to industry and commercialization of research findings.
The partnership has presented opportunities for Kenya to revamp its national innovation system and is expected to “not only strengthen academic and private sector partnerships but also bridge the gap between the industry, universities and research institutions,” the ministry says.
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology has an operational plants producing nodules among other products run by student. Egerton University hosts a milk processing plant. These are among a number of efforts being put forth by institutions of learning to offer their students work experience.