The future of university funding and the Private Sector


rb2The factors needed for increased innovation at university level were discussed on Wednesday as the 5th African Higher Education Week and RUFORUM Biennial Conference 2016 entered its second day.

Acknowledging the importance of attracting private sector support, the day kicked off with a session titled Linking Universities with Private Sector for agri-business innovations.

Although the benefits – funding and outcome-based research – were obvious, some delegates pointed out that it would require institutions of higher learning to be more sensitive to the needs of business.

Keynote speaker NORAD  Director General Dr. Jon Lomoy acknowledged the important role that universities will play in shaping a prosperous future for Africa, but said the continent needs to be prepared to invest in institutions of higher learning.

“There is an enormous need to lift African investment in knowledge creation, in research and development,” he told delegates.

He warned that finding the funds won’t be easy, that it will likely require political battles and higher taxes, as well as increased reliance on funding from private sources.

This set the tone for the conversation that followed, in which Prof. Margaret Kamar, Consultant with Global Leaders Consultancy and Former Kenyan Cabinet Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, appealed to vice chancellors to take leadership in promoting the relationship between universities and industry.

She further argued for the private sector to be involved in shaping curricula to promote research with an end product in mind as opposed to research for research’s sake.

Mr. Hugh Campbell, General Manager of HORTGRO Science South Africa, made the case for organisations that act as a middleman between the private sector and universities.

He told delegates when you link in with an industry that has specific objectives, you need to have objective-based research and encouraged them to consider mutual benefit and relevance when building a relationship with a business.

The gap between business and research institutions was also acknowledged by Mr. Nimura Satoshi, Managing Director at Japanese company Nimura Genetic Solutions. He told the audience that researchers often don’t understand what the private sector wants:  “They speak research language, we speak money language.”

Mr. Satoshi offered some tips for universities who want to build relationships with the private sector:

  • Compliance: The importance of being able to rely on institutions to stick to laws & regulations.
  • Freedom for utilisation of innovation: A mutual understanding of consent, which will ensure the process is not slowed down at crucial times for the business.
  • Proper handling of project: Punctual delivery as well as effective scheduling, good research ethics and budget management.
  • Initial detailed discussion before collaboration work kicks off: Ensure a frank, straightforward and detailed discussion takes place about a project before it kicks off.

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