Call for private sector funding of university research

Direct funding of research in universities by the private sector could help accelerate much-talked-about but rarely achieved linkages between higher education and industry, the East African High Education Forum heard last month.

Joint undertaking of research, with costs shared between universities and the private sector, was another way of hastening partnerships between the two.

Under the first approach, industry could wholly fund research projects in universities that would contribute knowledge and skills, said John Bosco Rusagara, executive director of East African Business (EABC), at the forum organised by the Inter University Council of East Africa and held in Arusha, Tanzania.

When direct funding was not available, universities and companies could still contribute to joint research projects, with the objectives of coming up with innovative products, exposing students to practical skills and enabling the development of industry-relevant knowledge.

For such partnerships to be attained, Rusagara said, governments needed to play a part by offering incentives and creating the necessary environment for initiatives to thrive.

“East African Community partner states need to encourage more direct funding of universities by offering tax credits and exemptions, and matching grants offered by industry,” the EABC boss told the forum.

While universities in the region had lagged behind in forming “tangible partnerships” this, Rusagara argued, could be reversed if universities and the private sector developed joint and well-defined programmes aimed at exploring and exploiting areas of cooperation.

Strong partnerships have developed in Asia, with successful collaborations with leading global industry players evident in universities allied to the Association of South East Asian Nations University Network, said Professor Tan Kay Chuan, the network’s chief quality officer.

He told the gathering that companies such as technology giants Toshiba, IBM, Ericsson, Siemens and Samsung were working in joint research projects with universities, with many benefits for all parties concerned, including students.

“The first step in attaining this is by both parties sitting and drawing up a strategy on how their partnership should be structured, strategies and expected outcomes.”

The fourth East African High Education Forum had the theme “Linking Universities to Industries for Knowledge Based Economies and Regional Integration”.

But several universities in East Africa also reported that working with informal sectors of the economy, farmers and community groups had been generating research and knowledge-sharing that was benefiting institutions and wider society.

The University of Dar es Salaam, in a presentation made by AK Temu, showcased how various of its departments were linking up with farmers and developing appropriate technologies in agro-processing of local crops, and adoption of new farming technologies.

The university was also offering legal assistance to poor communities, providing students with valuable experience and exposing law lecturers to trends in law.

University outreach programmes were providing good exposure and radical lessons to students, said Dr Thadeus Mkama of St Augustine University of Tanzania, and must not be ignored – especially in African countries with poorly developed private sectors.

“In our university we have realised that working with communities, helping them with business solutions and technologies, has expanded student knowledge and benefited faculty and society as well,” said Mkama.

Makerere University in Uganda and the National University of Rwanda also described community-based and industry-outreach activities.

Makere reported that it had taken the further step of incorporating an enterprise, the Makerere University Private Sector Forum, as its agency for defining and designing engagements with industry.