Research and industry: Where is the missing link?

University of Rwanda students take oath during a graduation ceremony in Huye District on November 8, 2019. / Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.

For long there has been a general consensus that Rwandan institutions of higher learning should do more research that can help guide the country’s development journey.

Experts argue that as the country continues to make substantial investment in vocational education, universities should concentrate on research.

 

Prof. Théoneste Muhizi, the Head of Chemistry Department at the University of Rwanda (UR), agrees.

 

“Universities, through their research must respond to national economic and social needs while also supporting the labour market by turning out employable graduates,” he said.

 

Muhizi also attributes the low levels of research to the fact that there are few postgraduate institutions, which are more vibrant when it comes to research.

“We have more students in the undergraduate section, where research is low compared to post graduate levels.”

Additionally, Muhizi observes that insufficient equipment especially for science students has also led to the slow development of research.

“We lack enough science laboratories, whereby you find science students facing challenges in their work. This means that their work will definitely be of low quality,” he said.

It even gets worse.

A student at University of Rwanda who requested to remain anonymous to be able to speak freely, said that many students are not required to write a dissertation before they graduate, making the situation even worse.

“Even where we are required to, we pay researchers who are out of the University to do the work,” said the student in the College of Business and Economics.

Pontian Kabeera, a doctoral graduate in education, is optimistic arguing that the deficiency in research should not be divorced from the country’s past and it us a work in progress.

“I don’t think we have ignored research that much, it’s just at a low level but we are progressing.”

Kabeera, however opines that “the quality of education obviously descends into nothingness under such circumstances because research in its own right enhances creativity and innovation which are key indicators of a working and relevant education system.”

He further recommends that policymakers should consider modifying the learning system to encourage research.

“I think taking on project-based learning can harness the best possible research skills among learners, augment creativity and innovation, perfect their professional disciplines and eventually convert into competent human labour force” Kabeera said.

No linkages to industry

For Muhizi there is close to no linkage between universities and industries.

“You find that research departments in universities are still under-developed because there are no linkages between institutions and the industries.”

He said that in other countries, industries are major funders of research at institutions of higher learning.

“This motivates students and helps build a research culture in them.”

Muhizi also pointed out that the issue of lecturers who misuse allocated research funds for their own benefits.

“We also still face a problem with irresponsible lecturers who misuse the fund (research money) hence making students to lose on the other hand” Muhizi said.

Lack of investment

Speaking to The New Times, Dr Charles Murigande the former Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Rwanda, reiterated that there is currently little to no investment for research in local universities.

“It is attributed to the fact that there is a limited number of Research and Development (R&D) industries in the country,” said Murigande, who has also previously served as Minister of Education.

R&D refers to innovative activities undertaken by corporations or governments in developing new services or products.

“You find that our private universities with the exception of international institutions, rely entirely on student tuition. This is literally not enough to fund all the operations as well as research development,” he said.

In this regard however, Murigande pointed out that the government established the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST), a body mandated with integrating science, technology, innovation and research into national development strategies and plans.

The council, he said, offers an opportunity for local universities to submit grant proposals to get research funding.

“Now that universities compete for grants, I am optimistic that, progressively this is something going to be tackled,” Murigande said.

Speaking to The New Times, Rose Mukankomeje, the Executive Director of Higher Education Council (HEC) echoed the same sentiments citing that, with the existence of NCST, teachers should not make resources a major obstacle towards research.

“Teachers in Higher Learning Institutions can write research proposals for funding. It [teachers] is their duty to compete for the funds.”

eashimwe@newtimesrwanda.com

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