US$1 billion universities research kitty coming soon

Kenya plans to set up a US$1 billion National Research Fund to strengthen research in universities, with an eye to boosting innovation to push the country to become a middle-income economy by 2030.

This means that the money available for university research will grow substantially from a current US$4 million, giving universities opportunities to get into high-end research projects.

The money will fund research in medicine, industry, agriculture, forestry, sugar and crime, among other areas, said Deputy President William Ruto when making the announcement during a graduation ceremony at Daystar University at the end of June.

“Currently, the volume and quality of research is not what it can and should be. At the current levels, we can’t do the research and innovation we expect to drive the economy.” Ruto said the government had resolved to set aside at least 2% of gross domestic product for research.

“By having an adequate research kitty, this will give scientists the capacity to point the way to viable economic ideas and solutions to local problems,” he added.

A working group set up last August, chaired by financial expert Millicent Omukaga, produced a paper to inform the fund. Ruto said government was currently in the process of appointing trustees to the fund, which would be up and running soon.

Research key to growth

Research is seen as crucial to Kenya’s long-term economic blueprint, Vision 2030, which plans to turn the country into a middle-income economy in two decades.

Kenya has been positioning itself as Africa’s next research hub, with several initiatives expected to generate hundreds of innovations.

Two years ago, global technology giant IBM launched a research lab in the capital Nairobi to conduct applied and exploratory research into the continent’s grand challenges, and deliver commercially viable innovations that change the way things are currently done.

Chuka University, one of Kenya’s newest higher education institutions, is building a US$35.3 million science and technology park to support researchers to come up with discoveries with economic potential.

Kenya hopes to also ride on growing research funding from African and global organisations that are putting billions of dollars into research grants.

Last month, for instance, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa – CODESRIA – called for applications from research laboratories and doctoral schools in African universities for the first phase of an initiative to support research in the social sciences and humanities.

CODESRIA said the initiative intended to “strengthen the capacity of universities to fulfil their research mission, in addition to that of teaching”. Successful applicants will receive a grant of US$10,000 each from CODESRIA, with applications closing on 21 August.

University efforts

Universities are also keen to increase their research kitties.

The University of Nairobi, Kenya’s second largest by student numbers, wants to raise its research pot to US$120 million by the end of this year, offering opportunities for lecturers and researchers to seek grants to conduct research across a range of sectors.

However, Kenya’s 30 universities are being crippled by an acute shortage of professors, according to the Commission for University Education – one of the reasons for its current low level of research production.

Universities are increasingly turning to part-time lecturers, but many have only attained a masters degree.

Attempts to boost research will clearly need to be accompanied by efforts to produce more highly qualified researchers.