Why Kenyan universities should be the drivers of Uhuru’s Big Four agenda

The higher education fraternity has undergone tremendous transformation. Key among them is the enactment of Universities Act No. 42 of 2012, which commenced on December 12, 2012. This brought the establishment, governance and administration of universities under the same legal framework. This caused the repealing of Acts of Parliament for seven universities that operated under individual Acts. The new law also caused some public university constituent colleges operating under Legal Orders to be upgraded to fully-fledged public universities. Initially, public universities were established through individual Acts of Parliament.

Today, we have 71 universities and colleges, including those with interim letters. The universities’ mandates are teaching and learning, research and community outreach. However, all universities expend so much energy on the teaching and learning aspects, other mandates have been pushed to the periphery. It is time that our universities outgrow this traditional way of doing things.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s dream of transforming Kenya rides on the Big Four agenda, namely, Universal Healthcare, Manufacturing, Affordable Housing and Food Security. This will only come true with concerted action aimed at eliminating the numerous barriers on the path of execution. We need to involve all stakeholders and in particular our Universities to help in achievement of this agenda.

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If you live in Kenya — or reading about Kenya — you’ve probably heard about the ‘Big Four’ agenda. The government has allocated Sh400 billion to the Big Four agenda, which is the main focus of President Kenyatta in his final term in office.  

Value addition

The universal health coverage has been allocated Sh44.6 billion while Sh6.5 billion will go towards affordable housing for all Kenyans. Sh20.25 billion has been allocated to enhance food and nutrition security for all by 2022, and Sh2.4 billion to support value addition and raise the manufacturing sector’s share to gross domestic product to 15 per cent by 2022.

On food security, Uhuru wants to produce 2.76 million bags of maize by the end of this year alone. On healthcare, he is looking at increasing the number of people with health cover from 16 million to 25 million. On housing, the plan is to have at least 500,000 affordable homes in all major cities by 2022. This is just a sample of what is happening under each pillar.

However, the reality is that under each area there are other secondary benefits. For example, while targeting to build the 500,000 housing units, 350,000 people will get jobs. In improving the cotton industry, 500,000 jobs will be created directly, and at least another 100,000 in clothing manufacturing. Under agro-processing 1,000 SMEs will be established and at least 200,000 jobs created.

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Different cadres

Universities in the developed world have outgrown over reliance on government funding and they generate funds through innovative research and adopting entrepreneurial culture. These have put universities in three different cadres; traditional teaching and learning universities, research and innovation universities and entrepreneurial universities.

Our universities need to move out of their comfort zones, draw achievable and realistic strategic plans on how to generate funds through drawing of fundable proposals to our government and international agencies to help in generating home grown solutions to our problems and support the Government in achievement of the big four.

The Government needs to support this move by putting necessary policies in place and encourage our Universities to take up the challenge. This can be achieved by grouping our universities into the big four arears, like these leaning towards agriculture may work together and be funded by the government to change our arid lands to food producing zones through irrigation.

Those that have leaning towards engineering may be put together and they help in innovative ways on production of cheap but durable materials for housing and equally come up with alternative ways of reducing traffic on our roads.

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Those universities that are biased towards business may work together and come up with how to change the mind-sets of our youth and mothers in the villages and train them on entrepreneurial skills. Those that have medical inclination may also be put together to improve on our health systems, do more research on our traditional herbal medicine, retrain our health personnel, expand our health facilities and come up with innovative ways of reaching those mothers in the rural set that may need drugs or blood or other emergencies within the limited time required to save life.

This, therefore, calls for concerted efforts among education stakeholders, change of mind set in our universities by shifting towards creating wealth, doing more home grown research, and coming up with innovative ways of driving our country forward. Enhancing the direct link between the industry and the institutions of higher learning needs to be looked into. Also, the Government needs to engage the universities more, through their vice chancellors, in driving and achieving its strategic goals within the required timeframe.

Mr Adan is the Dean of students Karatina University and the Chairman Kenya Universities Deans of Students Association. [email protected]

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Big Four AgendaKenyan UniversitiesHigher Education