, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 18 – Local universities have been urged to strategically position themselves to become the country’s backbone of attaining the forecasted economic growth through innovations and research.
President Mwai Kibaki said knowledge is the only engine to globalization through a prosperous economy.
He urged universities to play a more fundamental role in promoting national development as outlined in the country’s development blueprint, Vision 2030.
“The driving force in the upgrading of institutions of science and technology is the realization that in today’s increasingly globalized and knowledge-based economies, universities need to be at the forefront in promoting development in innovation, science and technology,” he said on Saturday when he officiated the launch of the Meru University College of Science and Agriculture at Nchiru Township, Tigania West Constituency .
The Head of State declared that the government’s desire is “to position universities at the centre of innovation, science and technology to enable the country attain both meaningful socio-economic development and qualified manpower.”
“It is against this background that Vision Twenty Thirty has accorded high priority to the development of high quality human capital with special emphasis on science and technology,” he acknowledged and stated that it is “fundamentally important to ensure that Kenyans were equipped with knowledge and skills that would enable them compete successfully at the international arena.”
Indeed, he said, lifelong learning and expanded opportunities for higher education have become necessary ingredients in modern times.
The Head of State challenged institutions of higher learning to adequately respond to societal needs through research and application of the findings.
President Kibaki noted that individual universities were located in different geographical and climatic zones which experienced unique challenges that could be tackled by the institutions.
He particularly noted that Meru University College which is located in one of the most agricultural rich regions, could lead the way by devising methods of reversing the trend of exporting the huge agricultural produce generated in the area in its raw form and instead strive to add value on the products.
“It is envisaged that science and technology will play a leading role in creation of skills and appropriate technologies to enable us to process and add value to our raw products before export,” he said.
He observed, “I note, for example, that Meru University College of Science and Technology is located in one of the agriculturally richest regions of our country. The area is known for quality coffee, tea and horticultural products. However, as we are aware, these products are sold fresh, as raw materials, to the developed countries where they are processed, repackaged, branded and re-exported back to us and other developing countries at a premium.”
During the occasion the President urged the academic staff to take up opportunities created by the Government for research and innovation citing the Research and Innovation Fund set up by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology for researchers.
The Head of State further urged local researchers to build linkages and collaborate with the private sector as well as with international peers in order to compare with the best in the world.
With regard to expansion of physical facilities in universities, President Kibaki revealed that that institution had received from the Government a grant of Ksh 185 million for capital development.
The President hailed various projects lined up for implementation by the college’s management aimed at expanding the institution especially the proposal to establish a teaching and referral hospital which he said would benefit both the local community and the entire nation at large.
“I note with appreciation that these resources are being utilized in the of two tuition blocks, two hostels, three workshops, a kitchen and a multi-purpose hall. In addition to the above projects, I am informed that the University has embarked on construction of a Teaching and Referral Hospital,” said the Head of State.
President Kibaki confirmed that the Government fully recognizes the need for upgrading skills and diversifying academic programmes offered in local institutions of higher learning.
This, he said, would make sure that academic programmes remained relevant to the dynamic labour market and would continue to fulfill the needs of an advancing society.
He noted that the Government had opened up higher education to benefit more Kenyans but in a manner that would ensure that skills needed from middle level institutions are not compromised.
“In our endeavour to realize these goals, my Government has stepped up measures aimed at enhancing access to University education. A number of reforms have been implemented in this regard, foremost among them being the opening of doors of middle-level public institutions to offer degree programmes,” he said.
The launch on Saturday was also attended by Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi and Higher Education Assistant Minister Kilemi Mwiria.
Cooperatives Minister Joseph Nyaga, several assistant ministers and members of parliament, the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura as well as other senior Government officials also attended the ceremony.