Ms Mercy Nduati of Kenya engineer conducted an interview with Prof. Patts M.A.Odira, Associate Professor and Dean, School of Engineering at the University of Nairobi.
He is a consultant and registered Engineer with Engineers Board of Kenya, Corporate member Institution of Engineers of Kenya and a member of International Association for Water Pollution Research and Control. His major teaching and research areas at under and post graduate areas include water resources management and administration, water resource engineering , irrigation, hydraulics, environmental health engineering involving unit operations for water and waste water treatment, solid waste management, industrial waste management and water and waste water engineering design.
He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1976 at the University of Nairobi. In 1981, he earned his master’s degree in Hydrology and Environmental Health Engineering .Later on he did his doctorate in1985 on Water and Wastewater Engineering and Construction Management.
Currently, he serves as the Node Coordinator for research in Flood Management under the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network for River Engineering, a network of the Nile Basin Initiative. He conducts research at the Friend/Nile Echohydrology Group. He has published widely on environment and water.
Q. How has the University of Nairobi generally and particularly the School of Engineering contributed to the development of Kenya, what are some of the technological contributions UON has contributed to Kenya and what is in the pipeline?
In the school of engineering, a number of engineers participated in the design elements and conceptualization of the University of Nairobi towers along Harry Thuku Road but were limited only to consultancy within or outside the University. Though currently the building is under construction by the Chinese, it has created an opportunity for students pursuing Civil Engineering to have a look at what happens practically underground on the site. They are also keen on offering fourth year students attachment to gain experience on how technology combines elements of construction. More projects are coming up in the University.
Q. The institutions of higher learning contribute little in way of innovation and invention in Kenya, what would you say in response as an educator, What are your thoughts on efforts like the Nyayo pioneer car?
As an education institution, the University has created a number of innovations. Some staff from the department of mechanical engineering did design the engine of the Kenyan Car. The university planned to brand the engine.
Q. The industry has constantly complained about the quality and skill level of graduates, is it justified, does the syllabus meet the industry needs, what should be done to meet their needs if it is?
This is a wrong perception from the industry for that matter. The syllabus offered in the University meets the needs of the industry with regards to engineering and other courses. Those who have gone through the University of Nairobi compete around the world since this is a university of choice. Training here is adequate; we have some of the best known engineers coming through this university. Some have even been employed outside the country. For this reason, it is clear that the quality of our graduates meet the industry’s expectations without a doubt. Our Institutions prepare students not only on theoretical approach but the technical applications to attain hands on experience.
Q. The industries complain but do they help, have you got partnerships with other bodies and industry that is beneficial to students?
The partnerships are forthcoming which benefit students. We are trying to establish more partnerships though the industry has been invaded by foreigners. There are commitments from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure which offer attachment to students. The industry helps students to carry out more research innovations in engineering and gain experience in the field of specialization.
Q. Engineering education in Kenya is static in the sense that the programs don’t change much with the times, the labs and workshops are old, What are your thoughts on these and do you feel you have enough in the form of facilities, labs and tutors to give the country quality graduates?
Engineering programs offered in Kenya accommodates all students to enable them land a good job in the industry. What should be emphasized on is designing the curricula in such a way that it goes hand in hand with emerging trends in technology. This will help students be prepared for employment. Ministry of Education will approve the instigation of courses on nuclear engineering and petroleum in institutions of higher learning towards the end of the year.
The government has not invested much on revamping the forms of our laboratories and facilities as they still look the same as they were in the yester years. For instance, the laboratories built long time ago by Americans; the American Wing has little improvements. Hope is still beckoning at the end of the tunnel as recently the department of Mechanical engineering received equipments to boost their learning unlike other departments of engineering. The gesture is however like a drop in the ocean. The government should reinvest in learning institutions so as to improve learning.
There are inadequate tutors to produce quality graduates. This is harming the University of Nairobi. This is attributed to the rising number of new institutions of higher learning across the country leading to poaching of experienced lecturers and professors. The government should offer funding to excelling students to avoid a scenario where an individual has to leave the country to pursue further education.
Q. The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) admitting students for higher learning has just increased the number of student admitted for regular programs, the module two students have also been increasing. What is your lecturer per student numbers, how do you handle your staffing challenges? The lecture halls and workshops have changed very minimally over the decades while students have more than doubled. Can you still handle the students?
The institution can only handle a limited number of students. The number of teaching staff is also not equal to the task. To counter this challenge, the government should come up with a proper Human resource kit to offer training to the tutors resulting in a good workforce that the universities and colleges can utilize.
The lecture halls are not of good status as they can only accommodate a limited number of students at a given time. There is need for expansion to accommodate the desired ratio of students to lecturers.
Q.Let’s talk about policy, how will the engineers act 2011 impact the practice of engineering in Kenya, tell us also about the bodies that arise from it like the construction oversight authority, are these policies and bodies that touch on engineering by the government any good for the profession?
This Act is good as far as am concerned. Engineering Act 2011 established under the Professional and Engineers Board of Kenya provides registration and licensing of engineers. It also serves in regulation and development of the practice of engineers.
Moreover it regulates qualifications for engineers, the conducts of a professional engineer in corporate partnerships and accredits programs in engineering to fit the engineering industry.
To add, it is responsible for supervising, enforcing of laws on registered engineers, contractors and architects and ensures their certificates are legitimate. Its implementation is positively laid out as EBK and IEK take up the role of training to equip engineers with knowledge so as to practice engineering in the right way.
Q.What are some of the progressive initiatives and changes that have taken place in engineering training at the university since inception? Mention some of the patents, doctorate projects and research from the school too.
Introduction of courses on Petroleum and nuclear engineering to keep students up to date are one of the major changes in the school of engineering. E-learning program is being developed to ease learning in the institution. In terms of patents in engineering, it has been successful, as at now there are students creating robots or systems to ease communication. We ensure that their products get registered so that they are not tampered with by unscrupulous individuals.
Q. Talk to us about the accreditation of engineering courses, registration of engineering graduates and practitioners in the country, the process, challenges and importance of it.
For one to pursue an engineering course at the University, he or she should score an A in the cluster subjects (Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Computer) then major in the field of interest. Thereafter, to be registered with Engineers Board of Kenya one needs to have developed their own projects either from attachments/internships or in school.
This will later assist the individual to be called for an interview by Engineers Board of Kenya after three (3) years. They should also have accompanying documents like recommendation letters or projects carried out under a registered engineer. An act of parliament established Engineers Board of Kenya in accordance to Engineers Act 2011 section 3(1) to enforce laws with regards to engineering.
Q.As the patron of engineering students association (ESA), what is ESA up to and what plans have you got to make it more vibrant and increase student involvement in leadership and their affairs? Initiatives like the student engineer magazine are faltering?
The student engineer can be made vibrant by instilling a reading habit in the society. This will create awareness among student engineers that their improvised ideas can be unleashed and be implemented in one way or another. More research needs to be done on what to feature on the student engineer to make ESA interesting.
The student engineers should also record their activities on the platform to ensure members and other engineering students are up to date with the current trends in engineering and technology.
Q.What would you change if you had the power to and what is in the future of engineering education?
There should be a strong link with the University and the government in producing engineering products and the University should have an impact in producing graduates who meet the standards of the industry. The government too should have direct contact with students to boost engineering education..