Prof. Japheth Onyando is a professor of Soil and Water Engineering and a registered Agricultural Engineer with Engineers Board of Kenya.  He started working at Egerton University in 1990 as a graduate assistant. He progressed in his career and became a lecturer in 1997, a senior lecturer in the year 2002, an associate professor in 2005 and a professor in 2013. He has been a chairman of the department of agriculture engineering from 2011 to 2018 when he became the dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology in January 2018. Besides his administrative assignments he also teaches,  supervises undergraduate and post graduate students. he also undertakes outreach programmes and expert services in his area of discipline.

He sat down with the Kenya Engineer Team for a long ranging Interview.

Faculty of Engineering Egerton University

The Faculty of Engineering and Technology at Egerton University started in 1997 with four departments and four engineering programmes at undergraduate level. Before then there was only one e programme; Agricultural Engineering which started in 1939. This programme was initiated at certificate level by the white settlers to train farmers in the region at that time. With continued developments in Agriculture and commencement of academic training, it continued to grow under the the Faculty of Agriculture until 1997 when the Faculty of Engineering and Technology was created. In the  same year and as part of the process of setting up the new Faculty three other programmes; Industrial & Energy Engineering, Instrumentation & Control Engineering and Water & Environmental Engineering were created. These programmes were unique in their own merit. They were intended among other things to address emerging areas in conventional engineering fields and also comprehensive enough to train an engineer with adequate skills essential for the profession. These aspirations have been met in our graduates based on the feedback we receive from the Engineering Industry.

Accreditation of programmes

Accreditation of engineering programmes is essential in ensuring that the standards of Engineering practice are maintained. Accreditation gives confidence to the regulator that the graduate Engineer has acquired the requisite knowledge and skills to practice engineering as a profession.

Of the four programmes we offer only one, Agricultural Engineering, is accredited by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK). Currently weare in the process of having the other three programs accredited. So far we have fulfilled a number of conditions as required for accreditation. These conditions accreditation can be categorised into three major areas as outlined by EBK. The first is having a programme which is  approved by the board in terms of content.  Secondly, there need to be in place  requisite equipment for practical training and laboratory work.  The third requirement is having  adequate and competent staff with background training in relevant Engineering programme and especially registered engineers.   To date we have complied with the first two conditions and where we lack equipment, we have made arrangements for our students to conduct laboratory work in other Universities in the meantime. What we are yet to fully comply with is recruitment of qualified Engineers as lectures. This has been quite a challenge since most registered engineers are reluctant to join the teaching profession. A few may be willing but for part time teaching and we exploit this opportunity and indeed this has kept us going including involvement of Adjunct Professors. The new strategy which we have proposed to the University is to hire young graduates and train them so that they grow up in the profession and become Lectures. After advancing in this approach, we will submit the three programmes to EBK for accreditation. 

As a trainer of engineering, what do you think is the significance Industrial attachment for Engineering Students. 

At Egerton we do have three sessions of Industrial attachment at the second, third and fourth years of study. One of these three is internal where students undergo practical technical training internally in all the four departments. This exposes and enables students to engage in industrial practice in the four areas of engineering profession. Through this practice the engineering students broaden their understanding in other spheres of Engineering profession.  The second and third sessions of attachments are done out the in the industry where students get an opportunity and have real time experience and engage in practice informed by knowledge acquired in formal engineering learning process. 

In what ways can the Commission of University of Education (CUE) work with the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) to ensure convenience in the training of engineers? 

The Commission for University Education (CUE) accredits programmes which  are approved by the senate for implementation by the respective  University. But professional programmes are first approved by the regulator which is EBK for Engineering before accreditation by CUE. The roles of the two institutions should be complementary therefore they need to work together to advance the Engineering profession. To shorten he process, EBK should be represented in CUE so that approval is done once after EBK has verified fulfilment of requirements and adequacy of the engineering programme developed.

Challenges and or success for the Faculty of Engineering at Egerton University in the training of Engineers in Kenya? 

Our biggest challenge at Egerton has been having the three programmes accredited. Out of these three, two of them  have been accepted by EBK as having met minimum requirements for accreditation in terms of content.  The third one; Electrical and Control Engineering is currently being updated and will soon be submitted to EBK for consideration for approval. . Another challenge for us is acquisition of requisite equipment. . In as much as the university has been trying, we are yet to meet the bare minimum which the board requires for accreditation. Also financial resources for procuring equipment have been limited and this has delayed fulfilling the stated conditions as set by the board. Another challenge is for lecturers who are graduate engineers to register as professional engineers. This is because of lack of opportunities and resources for carrying out projects to completion and ready for registration given that the lectures are fully engaged in University assignments.

Comment on the retention of first-class graduates as teaching staff in Kenyan University. What does this practice imply on the quality of Engineers in Kenya? 

That is a very good idea and I encourage all institutions to do this. I’m one of those who was retained here after finishing my Bachelor degree and was retained on staff development programme. . This practice ensures that in the long run there will be sufficient and  qualified teaching staff. It is a more promising way of building qualified staff rather than try to attract professional engineers from the industry to become lectures.

Comments on the proposal/plans to establish a post graduate of The Kenya School of Engineering “ 

This is a good idea. It will help to fill knowledge gaps among  graduate engineers and bring them to the same level in the profession and practice. This more so because the graduate engineers come from different Universities and there could exist disparities in content coverage by natural design. The School can therefore even out such variations.  The challenge in  putting up such a school however will be the cost and especially for acquiring equipment for  training.

Your take on the Kenya Engineering Technologists Registration Board established under the Engineering Technology Act of 2016. 

 This board will play an important role in registration of technicians and to regulate training at the technical level. It’s important to ensure that those practicing as technicians are also qualified.  Engineers and Technologists work hand in hand so it’s very important that standards are upheld for each set of professionals.

What do you think are some of the opportunities and expected growth areas for engineers in the industry? 

Growth areas entail  expanding the engineering profession and developing other engineering areas essential to give momentum to industrialization process. We need to embrace other emerging areas in engineering, such as  software Engineering, medical engineering  Systems Engineering, petroleum engineering and others.

What do you think are the challenges faced by Engineering professionals and the engineering profession in Kenya and East Africa?  

I think the main challenge could be disparities in regulations governing engineering practice in Kenya and other East African Countries.  If these can be harmonized then Engineers from the region can find it easy to practice beyond borders without too much bureaucracy.

Local content in engineering Projects and protection of Kenyan Engineers… 

We  are all Engineers whether trained locally or abroad and in any case some of the  Kenya Engineers are also trained outside the  Country. For me as long as there is fair competition and regulations apply equally then there is no cause for alarm.  Ideally there should be no double standards in award of contracts in professional engineering assignments. One’s professionalism and experience should be able to see him through  compete favorably  with the foreign engineers. So the most important thing for me is to have  a level playing field for all. Remember earlier I said that Kenyan Engineers should also explore  practicing outside the Country  even as Engineers from other Countries also come to practice in Kenya or at least undertake assignments locally. If this practice is embraced then then would be no need for protection which is healthy for broadening and advancing the engineering profession and conforms with the spirit of globalization.

What is the future of Engineering at Egerton University? 

The future of Engineering at Egerton Egerton University is very bright. We are continuing to attract more students and our graduates are finding opportunities in the industry and other areas of professional practice and advancement. The University also has plans to improve facilities which will improve the quality of engineering training at Egerton University. We are also favoured by virtue of location here in Nakuru County which also favors industrial growth. A number industries are coming up within the County and we are having plans to have a working arrangements with them to further improve the skills of our graduates.

It is noteworthy that an enabling environment which is attractive to engineering has been created through the national development agenda and particularly in vision 2030 and the big 4 agenda. In both cases industrialization which has direct linkage with engineering practice has been singled out as a major undertaking. Other related development goals such as food security and affordable housing among others also require competent engineers in diverse engineering fields. These developments imply that more Engineers are needed in the relevant areas of engineering profession to drive the national development agenda. This is an opportunity which will spur growth in the engineering profession and Egerton University will take advantage of this to grow its engineering programmes.

For the young and upcoming Engineers and or Engineering students, I would like to tell them that Engineering is a promising career and one gets immediate engagement after graduation either formally or informally. An upcoming engineer only needs to be self driven and he will drive himself to greater heights in the engineering profession.

What is CIWAB?

CIWAB stands for Center For Integrated Water and Basin Management. It’s a center for knowledge creation and dissemination focusing on water security for the purpose of diversifying livelihoods, investment promotion and environmental sustainability. It was established following a programme that was sponsored by the Dutch embassy where  a consortium of local and international partners came together and implemented a project in the Mara River basin in the period 2014-2017. From this project lessons were learned to inform establishment of CIWAB at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology with focus on improvement of water security. The main function of CIWAB is to create and disseminate knowledge to improve water security by employing sustainable approaches. As already mentioned, industrialization and food security need water security which require integrated methods formulated using reliable data. Some of these data are received and processed at CIWAB through GEONETCast receiving station at the center and image processing softwater to generate reliable products for planning, development and management of water resources.


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