- The Asian tigers once agreed to assist to develop institutions of higher learning that were responsive to industry needs.
- But that dream was lost in government bureaucracy, infighting and lack of imagination.
- Even as the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST) gets ready to put up a Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology campus at Konza, MMU may never be what it was envisaged to be under government funding.
- The idea is dead for now. It serves as a lesson why we must re-think higher education, its funding, regulation, programs and its future.
In 2007, I travelled to South Korea and Malaysia to learn their secrets of rapid development that had elevated them to the status of Newly Industrialised Countries (NICs) in just three or so decades.
The idea of replicating the same in Kenya was met with resistance, destroyed and buried.
Both nations had established technology parks supported by universities specialising in applied sciences. In my assessment, we just needed to implement their development blueprint.
At meetings with government officials, many promises were made, leading us to anticipate quick action in the implementation of the “Tigers” model.
The tigers agreed to assist to develop institutions of higher learning that were responsive to industry needs.
Korea promised to build an advanced institute for science and technology that was to be modelled around the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST).
Malaysia too wanted to reciprocate our hospitality, which we had accorded them when they came for a benchmarking tour in the early part of 1970’s. They had borrowed Nairobi’s Mass Transport blueprint at the time.
As soon as I arrived home, I briefed my Minister then, Hon. Mutahi Kagwe. He instructed that we prepare a Cabinet Memorandum to transfer the Mbagathi-based Kenya College of Communications Technology from the regulator, Communication Commission of Kenya to Government.
We however wanted the institution to be funded privately through industry and university collaboration model in order to avoid the usual inadequate government funding. We named the College Multimedia University as we intended to collaborate with both Malaysia and KAIST.
Although the Cabinet approved the change, the Office of the Attorney General could not agree to a new model of university that did not exist in the country.
Our desire was not to destroy the original intentions of the college that were largely practical training in telecommunications. We wanted to develop an applied sciences research institution to address the problems of a developing country.
In 2008, we created a new Board Chaired by Hon. Kagwe as we tussled with the AG to consider approving a new model of university. We raised some money to start the Madaraka computer assembly plant in line with our desired mission of applied sciences.