Training is believed to be the key to the acquisition of skill set required to develop a nation. I believe so and you should believe so if you are a student. A university is therefore a place that equips a student with the requisite skills to be able to implement the solution to a real life problem by the application of the knowledge learnt or acquired in class. So here the fundamentals are taught and on a wider scope students are encouraged to ensure that they can see through the theory and its analysis to be able to invent stuff and generally improve the life of humanity. As said in other forums; it is the ultimate goal of engineering.
We ask the question therefore as students, is this the only function of the University? We believe that this is the basic function. And what would therefore distinguish a developing nation from a developed one in terms of the education schemes?…. It is a humble submission of mine that apart from the University serving as a knowledge inculcation centre, it is a place of RESEARCH. Which is greatly part of requirement to a nation achieving its development goals. It is my belief that this role is not left to the administrators of the institutions of higher learning alone. It is an issue that needs to be solved by all stakeholders.
This therefore leads to another question; Who are the other stakeholders? This question may revolve around each individual who has an engineering perspective and believes that truly if we must move forward we need to develop the capacity to take charge of the future. In a student perspective once again, these are the men and women in the industry and consultancy who have enough know how on the running of Engineering affairs that would be able to help us actualize the engineering curiosity in the student body.
What is it therefore that we would want done? We say this with the knowledge that we have fulfilled the pressing need of passing the exams and probably with a tinge of doubt that the fundamentals have stuck with us. Students who want to be part of the greater brighter future want to get real partnerships with firms, industries and would like the training to be given on a level that is more of laboratory oriented than classroom. We sit down and think how we can ensure that our Universities have signed memoranda of Understanding with the industries to form research centres. We wonder when this is going to happen. And sometimes with the syllabus at hand is fairly pressing we prefer to take off to the library and fulfil this primary role and hope that the future shall be bright.
The Institution of Engineers of Kenya, I believe has a mandate in ensuring that this works. Public Universities have no modern day facilities to enhance the propagation of the knowledge and its practicality for modern day inventions. So what are we being trained to be? We are subjects of optimism. We hope that one day the gentry who preceded us in the profession would look at it and see an array of loopholes and in the end strive to fill the gaps. But to our further disappointment, the Kenyan Student Engineer is relegated to being an employee who begins from the baby steps… a completely new learning process after a hectic five years. No wonder the profession is taken for the prestige of the name and not for the lucrative benefits that are so associated with it in other countries and circles.
The Engineering Association of The University of Nairobi on 27th of September 2014 got a promise of at most 50 students to be taken in for training into the various fields of The TATA Group. During the annual dinner at Laico Regency and at the request of Prof. Patts Odira, TATA Group committed to this. This is an example of an exemplary start. But this is not enough. Because it is geared towards making the Student suitable for the market. It would require a long period of time for this person to be able to design, implement and develop solutions to the industrial problems unlike if he had had an exposure at prototype developing level in a research centre.
What therefore is our request?
We would petition the big brother, in this manner of saying, it is the Engineering Stakeholders to intercede for us for the government to come up with a rapid result initiative to develop partnerships with firms both local and international, to come and establish, not their business centres here but to ensure that we have research facilities that are attached to our local Public and some Private Universities that offer Engineering. This is to ensure that there is a reduced outsourcing and that in the end we can have our own home-grown solutions.
Just but to mention a wild thought without clear knowledge of what its role is in this; the Ministry of Energy could develop research centre in Renewable s and Petroleum at American Wing of The University of Nairobi. There is enough space for yet another tower of research which could go a long way in benefiting not just the individual but the government too. For from this, there would be a promise of the future.
We have the Nuclear research centre at The University of Nairobi which I have less knowledge of its ‘equipment’ given that we have to send our students on scholarships to Korea and other nations to pursue the Nuclear science studies. This is the proof of nonchalance and non-committal attitude we are treating capacity development with. Yet these are the facilities and the people we hope would help us develop solutions to the next level. I believe that its easier to outsource the professionals who would teach a bunch of brilliant individuals at The University than sending a bunch of them outside the country with no certainty of their return.
If you asked a student he would tell you that either the Universities or the firms are lax in this venture of ensuring that they bridge the gap of research. Companies like Safaricom, I believe benefit from the bright minds that this country ever produces. Yet they would have to incur a great cost to train a fresh graduate. This cost would be reduced not just for them but also for the others who are in the field say The Communication Authority of Kenya, Kenya Data Networks and so on if they would partners to secure a research and capacity development centre in one of the Universities (read UoN). On a lighter note, it should be in their mind that this is a very productive Corporate Social responsibility. Which would make a great business sense in less than a decade.
It is a humble suggestion that Engineering Board of Kenya, Institution of Engineers of Kenya, Members of the organizations herein mentioned look into this affair. We need to create an engineer who understands clearly his field and has enough competence and knowledge of it such that he/she can offer solutions once in the industry within a minimum possible time. We must pressure the government to invest in this sector and help develop not just the personnel mentioned herein… but also spur economic growth.
We do not seek to dent the picture, but times are hard and even acquiring an internship is subject to a rigorous interview which given the nature of most engineering students, expression of oneself is as difficult as Electrodynamics exam can get. So in all manners of sensibility the Student feels left out by the people who can help.
But we believe things can change. And if one is in a position that makes it possible to execute our request, then all honour we shall owe him. We ask you the players of the industries, the Consultants and the Industries themselves to help the Student Engineer enjoy the same benefits as you are doing now. We hope that this will reach you and in good light you shall see the plight of the student who is arduous about his profession. All they ask is you be kind enough to help in whatever capacity you may to ensure that the person moves forward and in that good light of doing things, not only shall you change the course of a life but also the course of our nation and history shall speak favourably of you.
Lewis Sakwa Waswa
Fourth Year Electrical Engineering Student
University of Nairobi
Managing Editor of Student Engineer Journal.