DEVISING a regional science, technology and innovation (STI) policy is among key priorities of Kigali-based East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO) this year.
The EASTECO executive secretary, Gertrude Ngabirano, said this last week after the Permanent Secretaries of Ministries responsible for East African Community Affairs visited the institution’s headquarters to discuss its strategic plan and priority programmes.
Ngabirano said they have four priority areas with the first dealing with putting in place education-based policies at the regional level.
“This year, we will be working on a regional STI policy. In the short run, for example, we’ll be working on putting in place a regional intellectual property rights policy,” she said, emphasising the importance of the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds.
“We will also be working on a regional knowledge management framework involving establishment of electronic data bases. For example, recent research can be availed so that the public knows what research has been done and people who are interested can build on what is already in place.”
EASTECO is a semi-autonomous institution of the EAC mandated to promote and coordinate the development, management and application of science, technology and innovation in partner states.
Ngabirano said the commission’s work is in response to the fact that regional students’ enrollment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is on the decrease as compared to other fields of study.
STEM is normally more expensive, she noted, and there is a need to invest more in laboratories and other related science teaching facilities in the region.
Last month, University of Rwanda announced an increase in tuition fees for STEM courses, saying this was done to improve quality of education without the institution incurring losses.
“For example, increased tuition fees for science subjects is discouraging students who then opt for cheaper courses,” Ngabirano said, adding that EASTECO is particularly working to promote women enrollment in STEM courses.
“We are looking at a regional programme to nurture STEM, but especially to nurture women.”
Ngabirano said the visit of the permanent secretaries aimed at looking at planned EAC regional programmes for science, technology and innovation; and development of a regional policy for science, technology and innovation.
At the end of their trip, Edith Mwanje, the permanent secretary at Uganda’s ministry of the EAC affairs, said: “We were looking at the strategic plan of EASTECO and considering things such as what is it that we are going to focus on? We discussed issues of funding. We want to make sure that countries are working together.”
Mwanje, who headed the delegation, expressed gratitude to the Government of Rwanda for hosting EASTECO and its willingness to provide land for the Commission to build its new headquarters.
She emphasised the need for EAC partner states to harmonise their activities and make science and technology a key enabler of socio-economic development.
The meetings at the institution’s headquarters were attended by Claude Nikobisanzwe, the permanent secretary at Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community Affairs; Amb. Ali Idi Siwa, Tanzania’s high commissioner to Rwanda, among others.
The delegation wrapped up their visit with a field tour to K-Lab and FabLab, which constitute an ICT hub and incubator, and Positivo BGH, a company that assembles laptops.
Badru Ntege, the chairperson of the EASTECO governing board, said challenges in enhancing the region’s science, technology and innovation sector abound such as inadequate infrastructures but partner states have capacity to overcome them.
EASTECO’s five-year strategic plan is put at $22 million and is expected to be funded by the EAC.
According to Ngabirano, besides the annual EAC budgetary allocations, the Commission has a plan to harness funds from other sources, especially the region’s private sector “who are the end users of our research.”