On July 12, 2018, Mabel Imbuga’s voice reverberated in the graduation auditorium of Cardiff Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.
She was accepting an honorary doctorate for her contribution to university teaching, research, innovation and leadership in Africa. The recognition also echoed Prof Imbuga’s support for women to join and succeed in scientific careers.
The UK honour is the latest recognition that Imbuga has bagged since she took the helm of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) as vice chancellor in August 2008.
As the first female vice chancellor of a technical public university, Imbuga repositioned Jkuat as a respected world-class university.
“The university had enormous potential in agriculture, engineering and technology. The challenge then was to rally the best talent under a responsive leadership. I’m glad that dream became a reality,” Imbuga avers.
Jkuat adopted an industry-looking approach in its teaching and research programmes, enabling it to produce graduates who could fit in both formal employment and business startups.
In subsequent years, the university attracted many students, with enrolment rising from 10,650 in 2008 to over 42,000 a decade later.
This year, Jkuat was named the most preferred university under the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS).
“Our students are increasingly asserting themselves in Kenya’s productive sectors. They are not just rooted in theory, they acquire a diverse set of practical skills and competencies in the course of their training,” Imbuga said.
Jkuat has released several innovations in a number of disciplines. This led to the establishment of an industrial park in 2013 to better harness the innovations into commercially viable products.
From the park, Jkuat assisted the Government to pilot mainstreaming of ICT in the education sector through the digital literacy programme. The university assembled, distributed and commissioned 329,034 gadgets for use by pupils in 7,256 primary schools in 21 counties.
Perhaps Imbuga’s greatest achievement was repositioning Jkuat as a global university. The institution became host to the African Union-led Pan African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation.
The graduate training facility, with 364 students drawn from 38 African countries, released its inaugural batch of 14 doctorate graduates in June 2018.
Jkuat is also home to the International Maritime Organisation fronted by the Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre for Africa and the Sh3 billion China Africa Joint Research Centre.
But Imbuga has not achieved such milestones without challenges.
Faced with diminishing capitation from the Government, the vice chancellor’s administration had to devise innovative resource mobilisation measures.
As her tenure comes to an end, she has earned the reputation of an innovative and resilient and team leader whose ideas could be tapped for Africa’s socio-economic transformation.