Kenya embraces research chairs programme to drive R&D

Kenya has embraced the University Research Chairs – or URC – programme, a model that has already been adopted by countries such as Canada and South Africa.

Under the URC project, the government of Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, or NACOSTI, is partnering with Canada’s International Development Research Centre to fund research programmes.

“We have identified seven priority areas which will be rolled out in the coming 10 years, starting this year with health systems and biotechnology research,” said Jasper Rugut, NACOSTI CEO, at the launch of the programme in Kenya on 31 March.

To support the URC programme in the two initial thematic areas of research, NACOSTI and the International Development Research Centre, or IDRC, are each contributing US$1 million for five years. Moi University has been appointed to lead research on health systems.

“We expect that during the period of research, innovative maternal, childcare and health delivery solutions will be produced,” added Rugut.

Unlike in other forms of research, the URC programme mainly focuses on innovation and production of new technologies, with an emphasis on uptake to solve pressing social-economic problems by closely involving government and industry actors, according to Rugut.

It also seeks to strengthen the role of universities in public innovation systems.

Rugut noted that in the URC programme, priority areas in a country’s development needs are identified and research funded to attain research excellence under the leadership of a research chair, usually an eminent scholar in a particular field.

Fabian Esamai, principal of Moi University’s college of health sciences, will chair the health systems research in Kenya’s URC programme.

According to Collette Suda, principal secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the programme will go a long way towards boosting research on the health challenges facing the country.

“The problem of inadequate funding has continued hindering production of cutting-edge research in various fields, including health, but with this kind of support we believe critical steps will be made in finding solutions to our health challenges,” she told a gathering of distinguished scientists, researchers and policy-makers at the launch.

Simon Carter, IDRC director for Sub-Saharan Africa, said research should focus on generating low-cost and scalable technologies, with research excellence the driving force.

“We expect that under the URC, the fresh perspectives in solving pressing challenges including child mortality will be realised and that all research undertaken will be demand-driven,” Carter added.

* This article by Maina Waruru was first published on 29 April 2015 by SciDev.Net. It is republished under Creative Commons licence.