Government Backing Important to Upscale Research and Innovation

The Principal Secretary for University Education and Research, Simon Nabukwesi, made a call at the 67th graduation ceremony of the University of Nairobi last Friday, for higher learning institutions to lead in upscaling innovation and commercialisation of knowledge. His argument resonates with the reality where there is huge potential for the knowledge industry.

But there is more that requires to be done to make it a reality. A decade ago, the place of science and technology in the country’s development agenda was already agreed upon with the enactment by Parliament of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Act.

The law aims at ensuring that science, technology, and innovation is prioritised, promoted, and entrenched in the national production system. That we are still making the same call as a country is a demonstration that we have not lived up to our commitments and taken advantage of the opportunities that exist in this sector.

Prioritisation requires bold, decisive, and consistent action at several levels. We have very talented youth in the country. It is important that their creative energy is harnessed and supported to lead in the innovation space. Last weekend, the Deputy President officiated at the closing ceremony of the Kenya Music Festivals.

This event has gone on for years. Many pupils showcase their talents at these events. It is important that beyond awards such as trophies that the winners receive, the country sets in motion a process for ensuring that talents are identified, and support provided to move the exceptional talents to the next stage that would lead to commercial benefits to the musicians.

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Across the world, artistes are highly paid. The Kenyan music and arts industry cries out for investment, intellectual property support and promotion to enable the youth to earn a meaningful living from it and the government the much-needed revenue.

Secondly, is to better align our education system and processes to support innovation. The government has signalled a review of the competency-based curriculum (CBC) to help address the problems that stakeholders have raised since the system was launched a few years ago.

As this happens, it is important that the ideals of the system of nurturing talent are not thrown out the window. The country should not go back to an examination-focused approach to learning.

Instead, we must make it affordable and realistic for children to acquire skills in school that help them identify and pursue their talents. Too many young people finish school without any idea of what career fits their skills.

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a nephew who is set to sit Form Four exams in around two months. He was still grappling with what career path to follow at university. This is not a good way to proceed.

Government prioritization and financial support are most urgent of all the required interventions.

It is laudable that the Kenya Kwanza manifesto has promised to upscale support to the creative economy and innovation, including dedicated resources to fund start-ups and increased funding to universities and TVETs through a National skill and Funding Council. It is important that this commitment be translated to reality.

In 2013, the STI Act committed to put aside every year, two per cent of the country’s GDP to fund research through the National Research Fund. Unfortunately, the allocations to research and innovation have been decreasing every year.

In addition, Universities’ capitation is based on teaching requirements and not supporting research and innovation. In such an environment, the call by Ambassador Nabukwesi last week, while laudable will remain just an aspiration. To translate it to reality, resources must be prioritized for supporting innovative ideas from Kenyans.


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