UoN chancellor Verkooijen plans to turn around varsity fortunes

The University of Nairobi Chancellor Prof Patrick Verkooijen addressing students at the university on February 1, 2024. [Mike Kihaki, Standard]

Newly appointed Chancellor of the University of Nairobi Prof Patrick Verkooijen has outlined an ambitious plan to revitalise the institution and unshackle the weighty yoke of financial challenges.

In an interview with The Standard, Prof Verkooijen identified three key pillars of his strategy: driving innovation, building global partnerships, and investing in people.

"My value addition is being a transmission line between the great assets of the best university in the country. Bring University of Nairobi to the global map," he said.

Prof Verkooijen, who was appointed by President William Ruto, took over from Dr Vijoo Rattansi on January 12.

He will serve as the sixth chancellor of Kenya’s oldest university for the next five years.

In the interview, he questioned why and how financial revenue in universities are stagnant while the number of students joining universities continue going up.

He argues that over-reliance on government  funding has led to stagnation as the number of students continues to rise.

This, he says, creates pressure on the education system and hinders students' ability to pursue their desired studies.

And his solutions lies in diversifying the university's revenue streams as he plans to leverage on the institution's strong brand and alumni network of about 41,000 graduates to attract investments and build partnerships.

Collaboration with philanthropists and international institutions will also be central to his strategy.

He envisions flagship initiatives that not only generate revenue but also enhance the university's global reputation.

Prof Verkooijen believes that fostering a culture of creativity and invention will attract top talent and propel the university to the forefront of research and development.

This aligns with his previous success in mobilising Sh1.4 trillion for climate adaptation initiatives in Africa.

"The university has a strong brand globally. A strong brand has a commercial value, we just need to commercialise it, which comes with flagship initiative but also culture change," he said.

He revealed that he will focus on resource mobilisation aimed at enhancing and bolstering the university's financial strength and sustainability.  

Prof Verkooijen plans to collaborate with other universities, both locally and internationally, to share best practices and expertise.

He believes that benchmarking against successful institutions will provide valuable insights and help UoN identify areas for improvement.

"I look forward to meeting with other chancellors and see areas we can collaborate. They have areas which they have excelled in. This will give us focus on areas to benchmark," he said. 

However, Prof Verkooijen said the government has a role to play in positioning universities to the global world.

He defended his appointment saying it was aimed at ensuring university education in the country gets to the next level. 

"l was picked because of my results value addition. In the last two years, I have mobilised Sh1.4 trillion from the global North to Africa on climate adaptation," he said.

In his vision for the university, Prof Verkooijen promised to steer the institution to greater heights.

During the interview, the new chancellor urged other university leaders to diversify alternative means of getting funds to run their affairs.