The Inter-University Council of East Africa executive secretary Prof Alexander Lyambaje talked to Halima Abdallah about reforms to integrate education systems in the region.
It is close to three years since the 2011-2016 strategy was concluded. What has been achieved so far?
We are looking now at how we can get regional recognition. The committee of Quality Assurance and the board of Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) will be meeting on December 9.
If they pass the decision for regional recognition, we will have a framework for regional accreditation, which will mean that once you graduate in that programme, you do not need any other recognition.
We are also working on having credits accumulated by students to be transferred to other universities in partner countries. We are not yet fully there, but there is something we are working on and we think it will be good for students to move across the region when they transfer the credit.
On financial issues, we would like to see East African students considered as nationals wherever they go. If for example a student from Uganda goes to study in Tanzania, we would like that the student pays same amount of tuition as Tanzanian student.
We are also finalising a model, which we shall present to each partner state, although Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania have already validated this policy. We are yet to do so with Kenya and South Sudan.
Once that is done, we expect the Council of Ministers to make a directive tasking all the partners to accord national treatment to all students from EAC. Uganda has passed a directive that all East African students be treated as nationals but we still have some resistance.
We hope that soon we will be able to communicate to students that wherever they go they can demand for treatment as nationals.
Please talk about centres of excellence?
Since 2016, IUCEA has been establishing centres of excellence. We believe that we need to build capacity at post graduate level to improve quality of teaching.
We have established 24 centres of excellence in and outside the EAC. They are in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and outside East Africa we have Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. We recruit masters and PhD students. We have also developed a training programme for supervisors.
We have also established incubators in four centres of excellence. They are to inform innovations out of research findings. They are at University of science and technology, Mbarara for pharmaceuticals, Moi University for textiles, University of Rwanda for energy and at Nelson Mandela University for data science.
In October, we launched science technology and innovation forum. Here scientists meet and critic research findings of their peers.
At the same time we have established a journal for East Africa where our scientists will also be able to publish. We hope that it will be affordable because when you publish outside, in the USA for example it costs $2,000, which not many of our students can afford.
So we have our own so that money does not constitute a barrier. The journal will also help researchers know what each other is doing in the region.
You emphasis on masters and PhD programmes, but they are expensive considering that many students struggle to meet tuition at undergraduate. How will you achieve this?
We have scholarships for female students. Last year, we sent 28 students to centres of excellence. This year, we sent 30 students. We have also secured $110 million from KfW, Germany for science, technology and innovation and business.
We sent 60 students selected to join different universities university using the funds. We also secured $4.4 million GIZ to support centre of excellence of ICT at Nelson Mandela University. These are the scholarships we have available for the time being.
In June, during an annual meeting—we challenged each other on what could be done by our universities to facilitate student’s mobility and access to higher education.
IUCEA has 130 members, and so we put in place an IUCEA scholarship scheme where each university will offer six students free education.
The universities were receptive but tasked IUCEA to develop concept notes and that will be tables in December to the board so that the scholarship scheme owned by our universities can start operation.
We also have another smaller scholarship with South Korea for 30 students each year for the next five years. Last year we sent 24 students to study smart computing, business administration and hotel management. This year we sent 36 to make up for the slots carried from last year. Each country is entitled to five slots.
How do you fund the centres of excellence?
To make sure that we have centres of excellence running, they have got grants of up to $6 million to ensure quality education, and to facilitate student’s access.
We had that past advice that we forget about technical education and so we closed most of the technical schools in the region. But now we are getting engineers who need technicians. That is how we managed to secure $148 million for East African skills transformation and regional integration project.
This project will be funded by the World Bank loans and grants. In June, it was launched in Ethiopia, centre of excellence for technical and vocational education.
Other beneficiaries are Kenyan and Tanzania. This is a $293 million project in all. We hope that if properly used, it can take the region to a certain level. The idea is to see how economies and societies become competent base from knowledge based notion. The partner states also have their usual contribution of $740,000 for IUCEA.
Looking forward, what is in your plans?
We are initiating a new programme—East African Centre for Mathematics Research at Makerere University, University of Rwanda and University of Dar es Salaam. We have also mobilised Swedish universities to look into that programme