- University World News
Applied universities – A viable path to higher education (Ethiopia)
The idea of the applied university is growing as an enticing concept in developed and developing countries alike, offering a vehicle for system differentiation and the production of high-level practical skills.The applied university goes by many names – polytechnic university, university of applied sciences, vocational university, applied technological university – according to what countries think best describes their context.For example, the German term fachhochscuhle, the French haute école, the Dutch hogeschool, and the Italian scuola universitaria professionale all hint at the different emphases given by the institutions to functions such as teaching, research and professional qualifications. However, in spite of these variations, the applied university distinguishes itself from traditional universities in its focus on practical knowledge. Enhanced opportunities for the development of high-level practical skills that these institutions represent are especially appealing to countries and systems that seek a highly trained workforce that can contribute to national economic growth and development. The fact that applied universities are increasingly assuming similar status and prestige as traditional universities further augments their appeal. The availability of applied universities within a given system also helps in the process of differentiation of a higher education system, providing more choices to students who seek a study path based closely upon their interests and career plan. Ethiopia has a long history of school-based technical and vocational education. The first technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution was founded in 1942 as Ecole National des Artes Technique, later known as Addis Ababa Technical School. Other middle-level schools with vocational orientation operated across the country with particular focus in areas such as agriculture, technology and business. In the early 1960s Ethiopian high schools were structured along two streams: one purely academic and the other focusing on vocational training. In 1963 the Bahir Dar Polytechnic Institute was set up as a higher education institution with vocational orientation. The national education sector review initiated in 1973 viewed TVET as one major solution to the perennial problems of the theory-oriented education system that offered neither practical skills nor employment opportunities for the thousands of school-leavers. However, despite this solid start, the next two decades were characterised by the mushrooming of academic-oriented institutions across all levels of education and the gradual dominance of an academic orientation in the higher education sector. Today, the country has 50 universities and more than 160 private higher education institutions which together accommodate nearly a million students.
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- Daily Monitor
Makerere’s good week shows it can still build for the future (Uganda)
Makerere University’s potential remains huge. Despite the rather frequent staff and student strikes, and the general malaise that troubles the place, Makerere every so often dusts itself up and unleashes its latent intellectual power. The university just picked up close to Shs5 billion to monitor air quality in Kampala. It was a competitive process and Makerere was one of 20 organisations from around the world, and the only one from Africa, to emerge tops in the Google Artificial Intelligence Impact Challenge. Some 2,602 applications came in from organisations in 119 countries.
Essentially, Google.org sought ideas for projects that can use artificial intelligence or AI (“ability of a computer to act like a human being”) to address societal challenges. The successful applications, among others, had to present ideas for projects with “potential for impact, scalability, feasibility and the responsible use of AI”. The Makerere idea is described by Google.org thus: “Air pollution is a major contributor to poor health and mortality in developing countries. Tracking spatial and temporal pollution patterns is essential to combating it, but can be difficult in low-resource environments. Researchers from Makerere University will apply AI to data from low-cost air sensors installed on motorcycle taxis and the responsible use of AI”. The Makerere idea is described by Google.org thus: “Air pollution is a major contributor to poor health and mortality in developing countries. Tracking spatial and temporal pollution patterns is essential to combating it, but can be difficult in low-resource environments. Researchers from Makerere University will apply AI to data from low-cost air sensors installed on motorcycle taxis and other locations around Kampala to help improve air quality monitoring and forecasting and inform future interventions.” On top of the pile of cash, the researchers behind the idea from Makerere’s College of Computing and Information Sciences will, among others, also receive coaching from Google’s AI experts, and participate in a customised six-month Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator programme to jumpstart their work. I see a regional, even continental, centre of excellence on all things computing emerging around the College of Computing at Makerere. Someone needs to nurture it. If you want to know how thus far the College of Computing became “a place with an impressive number of skilled researchers who have created and sustained a vibrant and robust computer science base”, google up a 2018 paper titled, The Rise of Computing Research in East Africa: The Relationship Between Funding, Capacity and Research Community in a Nascent Field (Full disclosure: one of the five authors, G. Pascal Zachary, is a friend). If I were to set a new challenge for the good geeks, it would be to use AI to reduce accidents on Uganda’s highways. So far it seems the researchers are focused on urban areas with their “robust traffic flow monitoring” work.
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- University World News
Government in reform mode, puts brakes on new universities (Kenya)
The Kenyan government has barred the establishment of new public universities and satellite campuses as part of a raft of reforms aimed at rebuilding robust institutions of higher education and improving quality in the sector. Speaking at a workshop organised by the ministry of education in collaboration with the World Bank on 6 May, Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Magoha said there is a need to strengthen existing institutions by ensuring they are well equipped and have the capacity, including faculty, to deliver quality education. A former vice-chancellor himself, Magoha said the number of fully-fledged universities in Kenya had risen from 18 in 2009 to 49 today. A total of 25 others were awaiting charters. Since his appointment in March this year, he said he had received over 30 requests to open up new public universities. “This quantitative expansion seems to have occurred at the expense of quality,” said Magoha. The workshop was attended by vice-chancellors, lecturers, officials from the Commission for University Education, the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service and Kenya National Qualifications Authority. However, Magoha said he was disappointed by the poor turnout of vice-chancellors. Out of 78 invited, only 20 attended, he said.
Among the other measures the government is considering under the reform agenda are right-sizing and downsizing of staff to ensure proper staffing norms and the rationalisation of academic programmes and institutions, with a view to realising the full potential of the existing universities and campuses. This could see programmes and even universities and campuses being consolidated to maximise existing resources. To this end Magoha has directed the Commission for University Education to conduct a survey of all universities. The probe will look at qualifications of teaching staff, facilities, student to lecturer ratios and supervision capacity for postgraduate students. The commission has also been directed to review PhD programmes. The report is expected to be presented to the cabinet secretary by 31 July. “I expect to see a proposal on how we rationalise the existing universities so that we can have universities that are of high quality, providing the necessary student support for learning, [that] are involved in relevant research, and are globally competitive,” said Professor Magoha. As such, universities will only specialise in academic programmes in which they are relatively strong, while strengthening academic programmes that contribute to the national and global development agenda. Duplication of programmes means universities are receiving funds from government to do the same thing, he said. He asked universities to focus and specialise in different fields to offer solutions to the challenges facing humanity. He cited climate change and water scarcity as issues that require more attention.
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