Red tape stalls regional German applied sciences university
Nearly three years ago, in April 2016, a high-powered Kenyan delegation led by President Uhuru Kenyatta left Nairobi for Berlin, Germany, where they held bilateral trade and cooperation talks and negotiated a deal for the establishment of the East-African German University of Applied Sciences (EA-GUAS) in Kenya.
Some 10 months later, in February 2017, representatives of the two countries met in Nairobi and signed a joint declaration of intent to establish the university that would adopt the ‘practice-oriented’ applied sciences model widely used in Germany.
It was envisioned the university would train students from across the East African region, using the German model of applied sciences and giving learners practical skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
According to Patrick Mbataru, a lecturer in the department of agribusiness at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, the strength of the applied sciences model lies in the fact that it allows graduates to be more “hands-on”, as opposed to being armchair practitioners. It also gives students more time in experiential training compared with the conventional classroom-based model, he said.
The February 2017 developments were to be followed by the signing of a joint agreement spelling out the roles and responsibilities of each country, including the details on programmes to be taught, financing and levels of learning.
As both Germany and Kenya were going to elections in 2017, there was a common sense of urgency and concurrence on the need to sign the document, for fear that new governments might kill or stall the concept.
“The teams working on the technical aspects of the institution have completed their work. What remains is agreeing on the legal wording of the bilateral document, which legal teams are close to completing,” the head of cultural affairs at the German embassy in Nairobi, Uwe Koppel, told University World News in an October 2017 interview.
“Both sides want to lay a strong legal foundation for the establishment of this university; what is being awaited is purely the legal side of the agreement, after which the document will be signed,” he said at the time.
To date, no agreement has been signed and there is no indication that the EA-GUAS will be set up in the foreseeable future despite the German side being ready to sign the intergovernmental agreement to set up the institution, according to Helmut Blumbach, director of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Africa office in Nairobi, the body acting on behalf of Germany.
“We have been waiting to hear from our Kenyan counterparts on the draft agreement but there has been no progress so far; we continue to wait,” said Blumbach.
“We appreciate that 2017 was an election year, after which a new minister for education was appointed. We appreciate that the new minister needed time to settle down in the new position, but it’s more than a year now and it is important that we hasten this process,” he told University World News in a recent interview.
Current Kenyan Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Education Amina Mohamed was appointed to the position in December 2017, replacing Fred Matiang’i, the man credited with pushing for the proposed university. Mohamed was Kenya’s foreign affairs minister at the time the Kenyan delegation visited Germany.
“We are desperately waiting to hear from the Kenyan government. Time is running out. This is an idea that we should make sure is implemented for the good of Kenya and the region,” Blumbach said.
The agreement, which is to guide actualisation of the institution including how it will be financed, would kickstart a process of procurement to identify the host institution in Kenya and collaborating institutions in Germany.
According to the office of government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe, the signing of the pact, which will have wide-ranging implications for various government ministries, has been slowed down by the need for consultation between government ministries and agencies, and their attendant bureaucracy.
The agreement needs the input of the education, foreign and finance ministries in addition to that of the office of the attorney general, the latter taking care of the legal aspects of the agreement while the others offer technical input, he said.
The Kenya government was keen on getting the university established on its soil and would spare no effort in making sure the plans succeeded, he said.
“The document is being studied and is under discussion by various government ministries and agencies with a view to coming up with a final common position and finally ratifying it,” said Kiraithe, without further elaboration.
As Kenya procrastinates over the regional university project, other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia, have expressed an interest in hosting the institution, Blumbach said.
While the institution was intended to be the first of its kind on the continent, Egypt has since entered into a similar arrangement with Germany that will see it host the German University of Applied Sciences (GUAS), the result of an agreement between Germany and Egypt signed on 29 October 2018 on the sidelines of the G20 Investment Summit held in Berlin.
It is estimated that the GUAS in Egypt could be up and running by 2020, with support from the German government and the German development agency, GIZ, and an alliance of seven German universities of applied sciences.