MPs approve Rwf15bn grant for UR Centres of Excellence

Lawmakers on Monday called for the scaling up of research in institutions of higher learning after Finance Minister Claver Gatete tabled a bill for ratification of a $20 million (Rwf15.8 billion) grant to the University of Rwanda.

The grant, which was provided by the International Development Association (IDA), will fund the establishment of four centres of excellence specialising in different areas at the University of Rwanda.

The centres, which are set to be ready by September, were the result of a financing agreement signed in June this year between the government and IDA.

It is part of a bigger project by IDA to strengthen selected institutions of higher learning in the region to deliver quality post-graduate education and build collaborative research capacity in priority areas.

The credit is expected to be reimbursed over a period of 32 years, after a grace period of six years at the interest rate of 0.75 per cent per annum.

Explaining the genesis of the financial support to Parliament, Gatete told lawmakers that Rwanda was chosen among eight countries in the eastern and southern African region to host the centres of excellence according to regional clusters of Industry, Agriculture, Health, Education and Applied Statistics.

“Three colleges of the University of Rwanda will be assigned with particular dockets which qualify them to be African Centres of Excellence (ACE).

“For example, while the College of Science and Technology will be useful in the field of energy promotion and Internet of Things, the College of Business and Economics will champion Data Science, and the College of Education will host the centre of excellence for Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science,” he said.

Other centres of excellence will be set up in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique.

MPs expressed concerns on quality of education mainly at the tertiary level saying it can only be addressed by consistent, empirical and competitive research, which would, in turn, inform policy making.

“All these are foundational steps to fortify tertiary education. But how ready are we to promote informative and effective research? How is it this going to provide direct support to university leavers at the same time creating more job opportunities?” asked MP Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi.

“The Ministry of Education will need to put in place sustainable modalities through which research can be made useful in the development agenda,” said MP Agnes Mukazibera, chairperson of the standing committee on education.

“There is need to foster innovation and creativity during research to avoid duplication and or copyright infringement”.

Prof Nelson Ijumba, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of academic affairs and research at the University of Rwanda, told The New Times that they have proper structures and institutional capacity which will help in promoting research.

“Research is a requirement at a university like ours. Any staff member holding a Master’s Degree and or PhD is compelled to publish. We seek to raise the level of publication from 20 to 60 per cent and are looking forward to getting support from those centers,” he said.

In 2012, the Ministry of Education instituted an office in charge of research and innovation and, since then, government has funded research to the tune of Rwf400 million on top of the $75 million (Rwf51bn) from different UN agencies.

This, according to officials, is still not enough to fund the different research proposals by academics.

The MPs meanwhile unanimously approved the bill without having to go to the relevant committee.