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Here is how to help engineering education become more useful

Students showcase innovations during the CEDAT open day last year

Students showcase innovations during the CEDAT open day last year

How best and easiest can our student and graduate engineers cross from making of prototypes to making of devices?

This is a crucial question for whoever has interest in Uganda’s development, according to Prof Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa. Tickodri-Togboa, an engineering academician and presently the executive chairman of Kiira Motors Corporation was presenting at the third workshop of the Makerere University hub of the Higher Education Partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa (HEP SSA) on July 16, 2021. 

Held as a blend of physical and online via Zoom, the workshop was hosted by Busitema University on July 15 and 16, under the theme: ‘Engineering education for development’. 

The professor advised that instead of the traditional involvement of undergraduate students in an engineering project in the third or fourth year whereby the project is seen as “a means to earning marks”, students should be put on projects as early as possible; in the first or second year.

“The transition from a teaching university to an innovating university requires that the day a student enters university is the day to develop a project that is viable enough. To me, by second year, all students should be in research teams. Then the lecturer guides the student for sufficient time up to graduation and beyond if need be,” he said.

Secondly, the student should join a project that he passionately identifies with, because the purpose of the project should be the starting of a life career.

“Students should not be rushed into registration of patent. You can register a patent, yet no one is interested in buying it; what is important is the feasibility of your innovation or prototype.”

Thirdly, there must be a government that cares to know the research and innovation going on in the educational institutions and support the efforts. Such government also sets up research and innovation funds to motivate and facilitate researchers, plus an enabling non-bureaucratic legal framework. He observed that a number of bureaucrats don’t believe in local innovation and end up frustrating a lot of potential. 

Fourthly, there must be a private sector interested in funding such efforts with investment capital for mass production.

ABOUT HEP SSA

The project contact person for the Makerere University hub, Prof Henry Alinaitwe, said HEP SSA was founded and is still funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK. Its current budget for two years is 200,000 pounds (about Shs 980 million).

Established to encourage and cement academia-industry collaboration, the partnership helps students get introduced to the production processes, the culture of working, and rules and regulations that govern production in a factory.

“HEP SSA aims include creating partnerships that will help enrich Engineering Education and contribute to engineering capacity development in the region; improving the quality and relevance of engineering education and research in SSA; and catalyzing industry-academia partnerships in hub universities and their partner institutions,” Alinaitwe added.

He explained that HEP SAA employs a hub-and-spokes model whereby a consortium of a hub university with spokes universities under it partners industry to share knowledge and experience. Makerere is one of five hub universities in Eastern Africa.

ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN AFRICA

Alinaitwe pointed out a few issues that characterize the state of engineering education in Africa, such as having very few graduates of engineering. He said Africa graduates about 50,000 engineers annually (600 by Uganda) as compared to China’s 2,500,000.

There are far fewer practicing engineers because not all the graduates go to practice. For example in Uganda, less than 1,300 engineers are registered with the Engineers Registration Board (ERB) and less than 3,500 feature on the list of Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE).

There is inadequate infrastructure, laboratories and equipment that engineers require. In the teaching field, the number of qualified faculty members (lecturers) and technicians is small. Few students qualify to join the discipline as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) do not attract many students at secondary level.

MAKERERE UNIVERSITY HUB

Alinaitwe said activities carried out by the hub in the current phase include three workshops, two conferences and one training of trainers; curriculum review of at least one programme at each university, taking into account problem-based learning (PBL) and commercialization. Each university had student teams undertaking PBL challenges.

The consortium also trained trainers on entrepreneurship and commercialization. Some of the universities are reviewing their intellectual property management policies. University staff were placed in industry for 15 days in a year to appreciate industry practices and trends, receive comments about our graduates and obtain feedback for curriculum review.

Similarly, industry staff were placed at the universities for 15 days to teach and share industry experience, critique curriculum and its delivery and make input in curriculum review. Though now a separate hub, Makerere still collaborates with the hubs based at Moi and Dar es Salaam universities.

OUTCOMES

Prof Alinaitwe enumerated the benefits gained from the partnership programme such as increased staff exchanges and research collaboration among universities; increased research and more grants won, especially post-doctoral research; producing more practical and relevant graduates that can address challenges in society; ability to acquire intellectual property rights; innovations and prototypes that can be commercialized; and mutual-benefit partnerships with industry.

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