VC’s plan to make Masinde Muliro top-notch varsity

The new Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology Vice Chancellor Prof Solomon Isogangwa Shibairo. He takes over as the third VC of the institution that has been rocked by leadership wrangles for the last three years and now says he wants to turn it into a model university. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha asked him to take over the reins of leadership at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust), Prof Solomon Shibairo accepted the offer but reluctantly.

He was aware of the turf wars at the university and he was not ready to venture into the ensuing dispute. The university’s leadership had been split in the middle, especially after the departure of former Vice-Chancellor, the late Prof Fredrick Otieno, with the various camps fighting to succeed him.

And even when the Public Service Commission (PSC) advertised the position, Shibairo only applied after pressure from his friends. His friends felt he stood a great chance of becoming the university’s next vice-chancellor since he was already acting in the position. However, Prof Shibairo was not keen on the position. His role, he felt, was to ensure there was a smooth transition as the new VC takes over.

“I was a member of the Mmust Senate while working at Kibabii University College and I was aware of all the politics and supremacy battles at the university. Succession politics had polarised the university. I am not a confrontational person, that is why I felt I should not seek the position. I did not want to be involved in the fights,” says 61-year-old Shibairo who was appointed new VC after holding the position in acting capacity for close to two years. 

The University Council said on Thursday that Shibairo’s appointment had been ratified by PSC. He took over from Prof Asenath Sigot who had held the position, also in an acting capacity, for nine months. Sigot had succeeded Prof Joseph Bosire, in July 2019. For seven months, Prof Bosire acted as VC.

Shibairo, who worked as Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academics and Students Affairs at Kibabii University, says he had no ambitions of taking over the leadership of the university. He was even unconcerned when the position was advertised. He only took time to think about it after his friends asked if he’d applied. And when he told them he hadn’t, they told him to go for it.

“When I became the acting VC, I knew I was just a caretaker manager. My responsibility, I felt, was to oversee a smooth transition,” says Shibairo.

Prof. Solomon Shibairo was the Acting Vice-Chancellor of Masinde Muliro University for two years. [File, Standard]

He adds: “The atmosphere was toxic, with various camps battling each other. When I arrived, the first thing I did was to bring everyone together; I ensured everyone was on board. After three months, stability started returning to the university.”

And even during the interviews, Shibairo says he knew he would be last since those he was competing against were experienced and renowned scholars. He says: “I started preparing my exit notes as the interview process neared completion. I had no idea I would win. I topped during the interviews to my surprise.”

Shibairo scored 86.6 per cent in the interviews, beating Prof Mary Abukutsa and Prof Sibilike Khamala Makhanu who scored 68 per cent and 66.2 per cent respectively. Seven candidates had been shortlisted for the VC position.

“And now, we are keen on moving the university forward. We are aware that if we continue fighting even the little gains we have made will be lost. Mmust will rise again and become a world-class university, especially now that there is harmony,” he says.

“In the end, I must say I am happy to have this job. While I may be a bit nervous because of the mountain of work ahead, I know with the support of everyone, we will turn around the university, into a pinnacle of science and technology,” says Shibairo, a professor of horticulture and agronomy.

He says they will also give special attention to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (Tvet). The institution is the first public university to offer Competency-Based Education and Training (CBET) after it was registered as a Tvet centre.

The first batch of 480 students seconded by the Ministry of Education for Tvet courses has already reported to the institution. “The learners can transition from diploma level and go to higher levels of training in these courses,” says Shibairo.

He said they will offer diploma-level training in CBET-based courses in general agriculture, horticulture, building and construction, civil engineering, disaster management, security and intelligence, fitness instruction and recreation management, and sports coaching.

“We are putting emphasis on engineering to help the Government achieve the Big Four Agenda. The country lacks enough skilled engineers and we want to bridge that gap. India and the USA have grown into world-class economies because they have many skilled engineers,” says Shibairo.

He says he also wants to revamp the School of Medicine and that of Public Health to enhance their capacities to carry out research, “that will help the country address the problem of non-communicable diseases “.

“We are also starting a research and treatment centre for cancer. We want to train more doctors to be distributed across counties in the Lake Region Economic Bloc. In addition, we have plans to start an eyeglass making centre even as we invest more in eye surgery,” says Shibairo.

He says they will also invest heavily in horticultural reforms in the region to increase food production as part of the country’s ongoing national efforts to attain food security.

“We will also be carrying out more research to produce new varieties of cane that mature faster and have high levels of sucrose to help the struggling sugar sector,” says Prof Shibairo.

The new Mmust boss says they will also be hiring more professors and senior lecturers to address a shortage at the university.

“We are keen on providing quality education. That is why, among other things, we are also keen on employ more professors and senior lecturers. Other than teaching, professors carry out research and write proposals that attract grants,” says Shibairo.

Shibairo is a member of the Kenya National Academy of Science, Food Science and Technology Platform, and the Horticultural Society of Kenya. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi (1985), a Master’s degree in Agronomy from the same university (1989) and a PhD in Plant Science from the University of British Columbia (1996).

Kenya Universities Staff Union chairman Onzere Mulongo welcomed Shibairo’s appointment and promised him support. The university has been without a substantive VC since December 1, 2018, following the exit of Prof Otieno.

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