Prof. (Eng.) Bernard W. Ikua is the Principal of the College of Engineering and Technology (COETEC) at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). He is also an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, specializing in Design and Precision Engineering.
He is a Professional Engineer with wide experience in Manufacturing systems, Industrial Machine design and development, maintenance systems and non-traditional manufacturing systems. In the area of education, Prof. Ikua acquired his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nairobi, later, Masters and PhD from Tottori University, Japan.
Before joining JKUAT, he worked in the private sector and with the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) as a Research Officer, where he participated in the setting up of Engineering Development and Service Center (EDSC) and worked closely with SME’s in the Manufacturing sector.
Further, Prof. Ikua has guided research and development at Postgraduate level (MSc, PhD) in the areas of Manufacturing, Mechatronics and Automation. He has also been actively involved in several linkage projects with industry. He is currently the Chair of Committee of Deans and Heads of Engineering Faculties in Kenya.
COETEC offers programmes in her four schools namely; School of Mechanical, Manufacturing and Materials Engineering (SoMMME), School of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering (SCEGE), School of Electrical, Electronics and Information (SEEIE), and School of Biosystems and Environmental Engineering (SoBEE). There is also an engineering workshops and a center for sustainable material research.
Q: What are the student numbers under your care at both graduate and undergraduate level, how well is JKUAT equipped to handle them?
A: At undergraduate level, we have about 4,000 students while at postgraduate level the number is around 250. COETEC has a strong faculty of about 170 teaching staff. Many of these staff are registered as professional engineers and over 50 of them are PhD holders. In addition, the college has over 90 technologists who are well trained in their respective areas. There are also other support staff who assist in administrative matters in the college. In terms of facilities, the college has modern teaching and research facilities including relevant softwares.
Q: What are the major transformations that JKUAT has experienced over the decades with respect to engineering training, programs, departments and faculty?
A: Initially we had only three programmes, namely, Mechanical, Civil and Electrical and Electronic engineering but over the years we have developed other programmes including Mechatronic Engineering, Geomatic Engineering and Geospatial Information Systems, Telecommunications Engineering, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering and Marine Engineering. Many postgraduate programmes also have been introduced over the years. Thus in general, we have expanded our programmes and facilities.
Secondly, student enrolment in engineering has increased from roughly 300 in 1996 to the current 4000 undergraduate students. Also, there has been a phenomenon growth in the number of academic and technical staff. Further the number of Ph.D (Engineering) holders among the academic staff has grown tremendously over the years from 3 in 1996 to over 50 currently. Thirdly, we have experienced tremendous rise in number of professional registered engineers from only 2 in 1994 to approximately 30 currently and over 70 registered graduate engineers. Besides, we have a number of consulting engineers.
Q: What is your doctoral, innovation and research output in engineering at JKUAT, do you have any patents or industry application resulting from these and other efforts?
A: We have developed several innovations and technologies from various engineering fields, including, machine tools, agro-machineries and farm implements, processing equipments, construction materials, robotics and smart systems, intelligent systems. In research output, we have publications as a means of dissemination of research findings to public. We also participate in Tech-Expos, where we showcase innovations and provide information on new products and technologies.
We have filed for patents and copyrights on a number of innovations and industrial designs. The University’s mandate is to carry out training, research and innovation. Recently, a center for commercialization was developed within the University to handle development and commercialization aspects. This centre is composed of a team from the intellectual property and industrial liaison directorate and research, production and extension division and technical departments within the University. The unit has identified some innovations that are ready for commercialization and we are sure this will eliminate the missing link between product development and commercialization.
Q: Where do your graduates go, what do you equip them for, are they the right quality for the industry?
A: Our graduates are readily absorbed in the industry. They are engaged in respective industries where their expertise is needed. The various areas include: construction and infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, services, transport and allied subsectors, as well as in public service. In several situations, we have had engineering companies contacting us on uptake of our engineering graduates.
Q: What are some of the partnerships or collaborations you enjoy with the industry that benefit your departments and students? Please comment on the collaboration you have with Kenya Maritime Authority with respect to marine engineering.
A: We work closely with various public and private sector organizations in different schools of engineering at the university. For instance, in the school of electrical, we have partnered with Safaricom and Huawei. Others are LIWA (Linking Industry with Academics), KEPSA (Kenya Private Sector Association), Centurion Systems Limited, Booth Extrusions Ltd., Geothermal Development Company, Numerical Machining Complex, KIRDI, etc.
With KMA being a regulator, we are partnering in the area of curriculum development and training in the sector of marine engineering. The Authority has been very supportive in helping us meet and exceed requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). They also assist in creating opportunities for our students in practical training. Moreover, we are partnering with several bodies internationally to enhance quality of marine engineering training. And so far the feedback is very encouraging.
Maritime studies comprise several disciplines including navigation or nautical science, Marine engineering, Marine transport logistics, maritime law, sea resources extractives, fisheries, coast guard, etc.
Q: Do you have engineering courses you seek to introduce in your departments and please comment on the accreditation process for engineering courses?
A: Yes we have. One of our mandates as an institution of higher learning is to develop programmes to meet societal needs, and this we do in consultation with stakeholders. In the near future, we plan to develop some other demand-driven engineering programmes like nautical science, chemical engineering and even those related to oil and gas. I must mention here that training needs assessment for competencies and skills required is carried out and thorough planning before developing and launching any new programme.
For engineering programmes, accreditation is a process that involves meeting certain specific requirements as provided by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK). Some of these processes involve clarification of the programme design, curriculum content, number and qualification of staff, training facilities and infrastructure.
However, we shall not launch any engineering programmes without first engaging with and getting a nod from the EBK. We always seek to engage EBK at all levels of curriculum development, to ensure acceptability for accreditation, and they have been quite helpful.
Q: What has been happening in the Engineering Deans Committee since its formation?
A: The Committee of Deans and heads of engineering has been active in working towards accreditation of engineering programmes in the Universities concerned. Sharing information in regards to staff and facilities has been one of the key activities. We are also on a proposal for support in a bid to get more training facilities from the government.
When we met in March, we discussed the KENET (Kenya Education Network) engineering baseline survey. We outlined various weaknesses highlighted on the report and came up with solutions.
Q: What do you think of the engineering baseline survey by KENET, did the report capture properly the state of engineering education in Kenya?
A: I would say that it captured quite fairly the status of engineering education in Kenya. However, they relied heavily on data provided by some sections of the faculty from some of the universities, and thus the accuracy was somewhat compromised. For example, issue of teaching staff levels being indicated as part time or full time or vice versa brought some confusion, which may have lead to failure to accurately capture the staff/student ratios. In some instances, there were some errors on the student numbers in a faculty. Nevertheless, I can say that despite these minor omissions, the overall picture of the status of engineering education in Kenya was adequately reflected.
Q: What are some of the main challenges you encounter as an educator in the course of your duties, as a principal and within your departments what issues do you have to deal with?
A: Without challenges there would be no life, I believe. One of the major challenges I face is strained space for undergraduate students. For both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes quality of training is highly dependent on availability and quality of facilities. Engineering programmes are highly practical and need a lot of equipment.
Also engineering courses are very expensive hence adequate budget allocation or resources need to be directly allocated in the national budget in a bid to support the programmes that universities offer.
Q: What is the future of engineering education in Kenya as we strive toward Vision 2030?
A: Without engineering, Vision 2030 remains to be just that – A vision. Therefore, engineering education needs to be emphasized a lot and government and other stakeholders need to support it in every way possible in all universities for all universities offering engineering. A kitty needs to be developed to cater for engineering education, this may sound selfish but that’s the way to go. Engineers are involved in a number of areas that support growth of the economy like manufacturing, transport, infrastructure, mining, energy among others so as to make Vision 2030 a reality. Educators need to be supported and the number of professional engineers needs to be increased through trainings so as to have a critical mass of engineers to drive the economy forward.