There are few engineering lecturers in many public universities, with this in mind, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has partnered with Egerton University in a Sh39 million programme to train lecturers in this critical department.
The project plans to train at least 24 lecturers to help the Njoro-based university bridge the shortfall of human resource and woo more female students to pursue Master’s and PhDs degrees. The executive dean, Faculty of Engineering and Technology at Egerton University, Prof Japheth Onyando, is leading the programme. He discusses how it is transforming the university.
This initiative aims to improve the quality and relevance of agriculture engineering at Egerton University and public universities in Kenya as a whole. Is it achieving that goal?
When the idea was mooted in 2013, there was a lack of adequate lecturers in agriculture engineering and engineering in general, in public universities, since it was started, it has managed to attract students to the course and train them such that later, they become lecturers at universities. It has tremendously improved the capacity of lecturers at public universities and other government institutions.
What is the relevance of this programme as far as Kenya's Vision 2030 is concerned?
When we develop, say, a drier that is technology-based and is focused on improving the quality of food and minimise post-harvest losses, then the programme is supporting one of the government's Big Four Agenda on food security and reducing poverty. The programme trains agriculture engineers who are involved in all dimensions of food production - from farm machinery operations to management of fields, soil and water and also the processing of food.
Do you think this programme will bridge the shortage of engineers in the agriculture sector?
This training is not only focusing on Egerton University teaching staff but also on other public universities such as the University of Kabianga and Dedan Kimathi University of Technology which have students pursuing Master’s and PhD degrees, who, when they return to their institutions, will train more students. We also have students from other government agencies enrolled in the programme.
The programme is also training students in TVETs...
TVETs are now getting qualified and well-trained manpower courtesy of this programme as a number of our students who have completed the programme have already been absorbed by TVETs. We are happy this knowledge transfer is impacting on the quality of students coming from the institutions which are spread in all the 47 counties.How is this programme adding value in terms of research?
The programme is providing opportunities to students to engage as there is basic infrastructure put in place at Egerton University. The involvement of industry stakeholders is also another window of opportunity for research by our students who want to widen their scope of knowledge.In terms of quality of education, how will this initiative change the knowledge landscape in the next decade?It is a big opportunity as the research findings that will come up will speed up the development agenda in the agriculture engineering sector and boost the number of lecturers in public universities who will be aligned with the new competency-based curriculum.
The quality of engineering students is criticised, what role is this collaboration playing to change this?
The training places more emphasis on practical aspects. Our students interact directly with lecturers to enhance their skills. We also involve the Engineering Students Association in research activities to boost their skills and have adequate and competent lecturers who train and mentor young graduates and prepare them for succession - that is one of the greatest values of this programme.
Would you say that it is helping the government reduce its burden on funding higher education in Kenya?
The programme has reduced the number of graduates going abroad to pursue PhDs, a factor that has helped to bring the level of teaching staff to the required standards and save the exchequer millions of shillings to train students. Government should now focus more on the provision of equipment instead of focusing more on paying tuition fees for students in public universities. If the government strikes a balance between the provision of tuition fees and modern technology equipment like drones to collect data, this will enable teaching to be more effective and imparting of skills to our students will go a notch higher.
Besides improvement of quality of teaching, what other benefits do stakeholders outside the academia enjoy courtesy of this project?
All-rounded staff who will be more resourceful in the field. More staff from outside the university are showing interest to pursue higher education while still on their jobs. The programme is also building confidence between stakeholders and has increased knowledge dissemination. This is a win-win situation for all the parties involved. I urge those taking part in the initiative to collaborate with the university by supporting the programme so that we can respond to their industry needs.
What are the accruing benefits that Egerton University gets from this programme?
Top on the list is the training of resource persons as lecturers. The university is saving money that would have been used to sponsor the staff for higher learning as one of its core functions has been supported by AfDB. At least eight staff members have been trained through the programme.
How much has AfDB put in the programme?
This programme is sponsored to the tune of Sh39 million to train 24 postgraduate students. It also sponsors foreign resource persons who are involved in the supervision of students. It is to be completed in two years. It has provided opportunities for students to realise their dreams as it is a fully-funded scholarship. It supports the research component and students have benefited through knowledge transfer.
The number of female students taking engineering courses in public universities is still low, how is this programme helping to beef up the numbers?
Through it, we encourage more female students to apply for scholarships. We want to take advantage of the programme and look for opportunities to admit more female students to take engineering courses at a higher level. Our female engineering students who did their Master’s degree are now teaching in TVET institutions and some plant to pursue PhDs.
What are some of the challenges that the programme faces?
One major challenge was to sustain the supervision of resource persons who were coming from abroad in terms of ensuring that we meet their costs of supervision. We have overcome this through assistance from other donors we're working with within other affiliated projects who agreed to assist us at minimal compensation to supervise students and teach in the programme.
Anything we’ve let out?
I want to thank AfDB because without them we would have a serious staff shortage in the engineering department. We have met the minimum threshold we need. Lecturers are offering valuable skills to students in various departments as some of the courses offered through the programme are cross-cutting. The benefits have spilt over to other areas related to agriculture engineering, for instance water, irrigation, civil and mechanical engineering and energy.