Minister asks new vice-chancellor to boost research

While Rwanda aspires to shift from an agriculture-based country to a knowledge-based one, academia continues to lag behind in terms of conducting relevant research and also promoting quality education, a tendency that should change.

Dr Valentine Uwamariya, the minister of education, made this call on 13 February while officiating at the handover event between Dr Papias Musafiri Malimba, who served as acting vice-chancellor for four months, and the incoming vice-chancellor of the University of Rwanda (UR), Professor Alexandre Lyambabaje.

Uwamariya emphasised that the university should lead in conducting research that informs policies and strives to boost the quality of education.

The UR has 1,115 academic staff across its six colleges but only 28% are involved in research activities and published the findings, according to figures from the university. The institution has more than 27,000 students, 8% of whom are in post-graduate programmes.

Research should have an impact

Uwamariya said that the UR had a role to play if the country were to achieve the objective of becoming a knowledge-based country.

“Very often, we talk about becoming a knowledge-based economy and that knowledge is provided through education. The UR should be more productive and play a role,” she said, shortly after the handover ceremony at the UR headquarters in Kigali.

Uwamariya said the university should improve the quality of education but it also had the responsibility to carry out research that impacted the community and the country.

“We want the UR to be the university that carries out the research that brings about changes in communities and that contributes to the attainment of the knowledge-based economy we are talking about,” she said.

Uwamariya told University World News that Lyambabaje was expected to make the UR a leading university.

She said Lyambabaje would strive to work with others to support the development of Rwanda by discovering and advancing knowledge while being committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and preparing students for lives of service, leadership, and solutions.

“He is expected to drive change aimed at achieving the university’s vision and mission and building the partnership with other high-ranking universities worldwide,” Uwamariya said.

Generating revenue

Speaking to the press after the handover, Lyambabaje said he was eager to work with the university staff and industry to advance the quality of education, and work on more research papers that were not simply kept on shelves after publication, but whose findings would be used to change people’s lives.

“We need to work with industry in the early preparation stages, such as in curriculum development, teaching the developed curriculum as well as providing internships or industrial attachment to students. That will help us promote the quality of education,” he said.

“Another thing I think is very important is to know how the research we carry out helps the communities around us and contributes to socio-economic development.

“For instance, if one carries out research on how to turn waste into a given product, what follows?” he asked, questioning whether academics simply published research findings in international journals to be lauded for their research, without any benefit to citizens. “We also have to look into this,” he added.

Lyambabaje also talked about the potential of university staff and students to generate their own revenue through research and consultancies. Government and local companies hire foreigners to do the work, but the UR should win similar tenders, he said.

“We can look at how to build our capacity and, whenever our country seeks to conduct any study or research, we can be right there to do the job. I am very sure we can do it in a professional way. I don’t see any reason [why] the country should lose money to foreign researchers.”

According to Dr Alexandre Ngenzi, who offers computer science and engineering at the University of Rwanda’s college of science and technology, the university should come up with plans to motivate researchers and mobilise research funds.

“There is a need to motivate researchers,” he said, adding that an academic might publish one research paper, but, to produce two or more would require a budget.

“There is no budget allocated for that, and that needs to change,” he said.

Joseph Ntahompagaze, who holds a PhD in astrophysics, said academics expected the new leadership to support researchers with grants and to strengthen partnerships between the university and industry.

The 61-year-old Lyambabaje completed his PhD in mathematics at the University of Rennes in France. He served as the permanent secretary in the Rwanda Ministry of Education.

He later carried out research at the UR and offered courses at the Institute of Applied Sciences (INES Ruhengeri), based in the Musanze district of Rwanda’s Northern Province.

His political career has included a stint as the minister of commerce, tourism industry, investments promotion and cooperatives between 2000 and 2003.