For two months, at the tail end of 2018, three students supported by the TAGDev Potato Community Action Research Project (CARP+) were attached for internship at the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) based in Nairobi. They were among the five students of the first cohort of Master of Science in Community Studies and Extension at Egerton University sponsored by the TAGDev Programme coordinated by RUFORUM and funded by the MasterCard Foundation. Internships are part of the requirements for the Master’s in Community Studies and aim to provide students with opportunities for experiential learning, application of knowledge and skills acquired in class and co-generation of knowledge with organizations and communities.
Activities at the National Potato Council of Kenya
The National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) is a public-private-partnership and multi-stakeholder organization whose role is to promote, protect and coordinate the potato sub-sector in the Kenya. To kick off the internship, the three students were introduced to all departments of the Council and held briefing meetings with each department to familiarize themselves with the organisation and its work. Together with the management team, they then developed work plans for the period of attachment. In order to deliver an enriching experience, planned activities included a mix of field work, routine operations and special assignments. Highlights of activities implemented were:
- Training farmers on the Viazi Soko platform, a web-based SMS platform of the NCPK that collects, processes, and disseminates potato information. The training took place during a Farmer Field Day held in Nyandarua. After the training, farmers were assisted to register with the platform so they could access information on potatoes as well as connect with certified seed potato producers, input suppliers and potato buyers
- Establishing and supervising demonstration plots on Zeba, a starch-based water absorbent which promotes water retention in potatoes. Zeba is planted together with potatoes for strong and profuse root growth, quick and healthy crop establishment and water stress tolerance. The students worked with farmers to set up and monitor these plots
- Sorting, grading weighing and packaging potatoes at NPCK stores. The process mainly involved removing diseased, cut and deformed tubers then aggregating the healthy ones according to variety before packing in 50kg bags ready for sale
- Policy and lobbying: The students participated in a public forum on draft potato regulations held at the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (KARLRO) headquarters
- Participation in partnership meetings with a wide range of stakeholders and actors in the potato industry. The students were involved in meetings between the Council and partners such as YARA, Muchiri FM, Fresh Care Africa and GIZ to discuss how best they could work together and avoid duplication of efforts
- Development of the annual potato magazine used for creating awareness and reporting about the activities of the sub-sector. The students edited and reviewed articles submitted
In addition, the students also engaged in activities like organizing the NPCK Annual General Meeting, updating the Council’s database of partners, and familiarization with operations in the departments of human resources, administration and finance.
The internship seems to have been well appreciated by the students who shared reflections from their experiences as below:
The attachment experience was good as I was engaged in many activities and gained hands-on experience in areas such as post-harvest handling of potatoes and training farmers in implementing new technologies. With the knowledge I gained on the Viazi Soko platform, I look forward to sharing it with the potato farmers under the CARP+ Project and helping them register on the platform so that they can benefit from the information therein. The orientation in organisation structure and day-to-day operation activities of NPCK helped me to understand how organization systems operate. Through attending the partnership meetings, i gained negotiation skills and my experience with helping to organize the Annual General Meeting has made me a better event planner. I also gained skills in organisational communication, employee management, team building and employee code of conduct which I believe will help me in my future career.
The attachment provided an opportunity for me to gain hands-on experience and apply theoretical knowledge to real life situations. From it, I gained lifelong skills and knowledge which will be important for my studies, career development and community engagement. These included experience in potato demonstration plot management, organizational and operational skills, event planning and management, post-harvest handling of potatoes and stakeholder engagement. This was in addition to other skills gained in data management, community training and understanding of policy making processes.
The internship experience taught me a lot which has benefited me and the community work i am engaged with. For example, with what I learned about the policy development process; right from issue identification, lobbying, development and implementation, I have written a policy belief on legalization of clean seed potato in Kenya, which is now being used for lobbying. If passed, this policy will contribute to the objectives of the CARP+ project by helping farmers to access high quality seed for increased potato productivity. I also learnt and appreciated the process of potato strategy formulation, development and implementation, the process of potato production, both seed and ware, and marketing of potatoes. The art of sorting, grading, and separation of potato varieties for trade is important as different grades (sizes) and varieties have different purposes and fetch different prices from different markets. I will share this knowledge with the farmers I work with in order for them to increase their earnings.
While working with different stakeholders -farmers, partners, NPCK staff and fellow interns I gained valuable skills in mobilization, negotiation and communication. I am also proud to have participated in the 2018 Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon as part of the Council’s Corporate Social Responsibility. I successfully completed the 10km race and was awarded a medal. Overall, the attachment programme gave me memorable experiences and lessons which place me in a better position than if I had not undertaken it. I highly recommended it for all students.
The students express their gratitude to the Mastercard Foundation and TAGDev programme at Egerton University for the financial support during the attachment period. They also thank the National Potato Council of Kenya, for allowing them to gain invaluable hands-on experience, and the Department for Applied Community and Development Studies together with the CARP+ Potato Project at Egerton University for facilitating the attachment programme.
- University World News
Digital skills demand – A big opportunity for universities (Africa)
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has urged universities and higher technical education institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve their digital skills training programmes to cater for its prediction that over 230 million jobs in the region will need digital skills by 2030. The study, Digital Skills in Sub-Saharan Africa: Spotlight on Ghana, was produced in cooperation with global strategy firm LEK Consulting. According to Sergio Pimenta, IFC vice president for the Middle East and Africa, the already unmet demand presents public tertiary institutions and private higher education operators with a US$130 billion opportunity to train the future workforce in digital skills in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report states that a global digital revolution is underway and is not likely to bypass Africa. In Ghana, for example, over 9 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030, effectively translating to about 20 million training openings that will need over US$4 billion in training revenue potential. “The digital skills sector is ripe for rapid expansion and investment,” said Pimenta. According to the IFC, universities need to urgently make digital education curriculum shifts with an understanding that 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree will be outdated by the time a student graduates. “What students need is an adaptive set of skills that will ensure digital readiness,” said Dionisis Kolokotsas, the head of inclusive and sustainable development at Google. The study calls for short courses, typically three to 12 months, with a mix of instructional methods geared toward practical learning rather than theoretical understanding. The focus of digital skills should be on graduate employability and market demand. The study finds that although digital skills are perceived to be among the top seven skills needed by the future global workforce – which are critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, leadership, collaboration, computer literacy and application of technology – these skills are undersupplied globally and most particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.Highlighting Ghana’s digital skills labour market, the study says between now and 2030, the country will have business-to-consumer opportunities for about 700,000 people. The study extrapolates that during the same timeframe Ghana could have business-to-business and business-to-government opportunities that could reach about 18 million people who would require digital skills, and nearly US$3.5 billion in revenue. That makes the situation more urgent, taking into account the fact that employers anticipate more than 40% of skills required for the workforce will change before 2022. “At least 50% of employees in the sector will need to learn different or more advanced digital skills,” the report notes.
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- University World News
University boards – Visibility, efficiency and accountability (Ethiopia)
University boards serve as key agents of higher education governance in many countries, including Ethiopia, and are frequently conceived of as a buffer between the state and higher education institutions. The largest role in external governance of the higher education sector in Ethiopia is taken by the Ministry of Education, now the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The various strategic roles and functions of the ministry outlined in the Higher Education Proclamation (HEP 2009) ensure the implementation of national policy and strategy on higher education, the determination and issuance of standards, approval and implementation of the strategic plans of public institutions, and the facilitation of coordination among universities and other external entities.The internal governance of universities, on the other hand, is entrusted to governing and advisory bodies, academic units, administrative and technical support units, and other relevant offices (HEP 2009). In Ethiopia university boards have served as a key component of higher education governance for decades and appear to be situated somewhere between the ministry and the internal governance structures of the university. The university board is currently designated “the supreme governing body of the institution” with a plethora of responsibilities extending from monitoring to supervising the overall operations of the university (HEP 2009). Despite their importance in the achievement of effective and transparent university governance, boards seem to be the least reformed, researched and accountable of all university structures. Strikingly, boards set up during the last six decades under three different governments bear close resemblance to each other, both in terms of numbers of members and composition. When the University College of Addis Ababa (UCAA), the first institution of higher learning in the country, was established in 1950 the board of governors consisted of six members appointed by the emperor and the UCAA president.
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- University World News
Plotting policy pathways across landscapes of the past (South Africa)
With some scientists claiming that we have only 12 years to save the planet, the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) may have chosen an opportune time-frame for its evaluation of scholarly publishing, the keystone system used by scientists to communicate and verify truth claims. Reflecting on the past dozen years, the academy’s recently published ‘landmark’ report*, Twelve Years Later: Second ASSAf report on research publishing in and from South Africa, sets out to provide substance for informed debate on the state of scholarly publishing in South Africa and, hopefully, for policy consistent with the emergent evidence. Whether the report delivers on this undertaking is the motivation behind this short article. The report comprises eight chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 provide summaries of previous ASSAf reports published in 2006 and 2009 respectively. Chapter 5, a bibliometric analysis of scholarly publishing in South Africa, provides the most recent account (2005 to 2014). All the reports’ 16 tables and 32 figures appear in this chapter with its two-paragraph conclusion. Here the report showcases how the vast store of bibliometric data can be put to use to provide empirical evidence on the actual contours of the scholarly publishing landscape in South Africa. Sandwiched in-between are Chapters 3 and 4: one chapter reviews the academy’s Scholarly Publishing Programme and its activities over the past 12 years, and the other presents the problems of access for South African researchers seeking to publish in international journals. Chapter 6 draws attention to emerging sources of misconduct and questionable behaviour in scholarly publishing, while Chapter 7 discusses new publishing models and issues related to the quality of scholarly publishing. The final chapter concludes with eight recommendations to improve and protect scholarly research publishing in and from South Africa.
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- 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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