As the universal academic tradition dictates, the installation of the Vice Chancellor, presents an important opportunity to outline one’s vision and strategic goals for the institution. It is an honor for me to have been appointed to this important position in an institution that holds so much promise.
I bring to this office a wide-range of experience, within the academia, business sector and the Civil Society, spanning the three continents (Africa, Europe and Americas). However, I humbly recognize that I am just the steward of something much bigger than myself. I am the temporary guardian of an institution that means so much to so many here in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. I offer my heartfelt gratitude to and acknowledge the great strides made by KIM’s stakeholder- from the Chair and Board of Directors, the Vice Rector Academics, the Registrar, Director of Finance, Heads of Departments -for stirring KIM along the steady path of growth inspired by its mission. I am greatly humbled by your commitment and dedication towards professionalizing the African society through education.
I am also glad to share with you my sentiments on higher education and provide my roadmap of actions. I believe that higher education in Rwanda, and Africa at large, has reached a historically important but difficult, crossroads — one full of promises, opportunities, but also full of risks. I would like to speak directly to KIM’s stakeholders about the road that I believe we should choose, as a community tasked with shaping the future of the young, and I hope that some of my observations may help clarify the challenges confronting higher education overall.
Universities and higher institutions of learning rank among humanity’s finest, most enduring and most productive inventions. By shaping minds and creating knowledge, they helped give birth to modern civilization which Africa lavishly partakes in. They have produced a rich understanding of nature and humanity. They have blessed us with science-based advances that have transformed daily lives and elevated the human condition here in Africa as well. And they serve as superb catalysts for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth.
I will prefix my discourse around three critical challenges and questions that I believe educational institutions in Africa, and Rwanda, for that matter, need to address: (a) The paradox of Africa’s resource abundance and dwindling prosperity; (b) endemic poverty amidst economic opportunities; (c) how best can education meet these challenges and elevate Africa’s global competitiveness?
A few facts concerning current African and Rwandan situation will corroborate our concerns. A recent (2013) AfDB data (based on UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs) confirms Africa’s Human Resource abundance. By 2030 nearly one quarter of young people globally will be African. However, compared to the rest of the world, the gross enrollment ratio is a paltry 6% for tertiary education and 35% for secondary school enrolment. Labor force participation is very low and unemployment is one of the highest globally. Education in its current form has pretty little impact on employability. The trends seem to defy the traditional association between higher educational attainments with employability. For instance, Botswana’s tertiary unemployment rate (at 33%) is no brainer compared to 33.7% and 37.8% unemployment among those with basic and secondary education, respectively. A recent report by Rwanda Civil Society Platform (Oct 2015) Assessing Unemployment and Its Causes in Rwanda paints a dingy picture: only 0.5% of Rwanda’s youth have attained University education. On the other hand EPRDS II offers worrying picture of a gnawing gap in basic skills needed to transform the Rwandan economy.
As Africa faces these grave challenges around unemployment, underemployment, poverty and disease, alongside energy and climate, African nations need the creative force of its Institutions of higher learning more ardently than ever before. Yet just when Africa needs us the most, we find ourselves at the threshold of a historical info-technological transformation of unprecedented latitude. This technological transformation has the potential to reshape the education landscape — and to challenge our very existence. In deciding how to respond, universities stand at a crossroads of risk and opportunity. I will speak first about the risks and challenges. But what I really want to focus on are the opportunities.
The idea of educational technology is not new. And it is coming on the scene at a moment when higher education is already struggling with the growing problem of cost. As you well know, many families in Rwanda and Africa at large,find the sticker price of higher education awfully high; and that is one painful dimension of the cost problem. But it may surprise you to learn that, at the same time, universities are straining to cover the actual cost of educating students. We have to invest more than three times as much to educate our undergraduates as we receive in net tuition — that is, tuition minus financial aid.
However, while opening this floodgate of opportunity, these technologies may ultimately challenge the existingeducational model — and that should concern all of us, students and staff. Not because we like things the way they are. Not because we are proud of what universities have accomplished in the past. But because of the increasing need of a more technologically savvy society.
Paradigm Shift: From Knowledge production to Talent Incubation
The challenges presented by the problems of unemployment and poverty call for nothing short of a paradigm shift. The settled dogma that education is there to impart knowledge and test students’ levels of understanding may be attractive but it is out of step with what the aspirations of the young are as well as the needs of the society. In my contention, Africa needs an education system that serves more like incubator for brilliant young talents, creating the new knowledge and innovation that fuel economic and societal transformation. Identifying, grooming and harnessing talents is the one challenge that industries the world over now face, as Paul Christensen notes in The War for Talents (2001).
Let me underscore another related challenge, namely: investing in transformational research. More than ever in the past, research is not an ornament or a luxury that the University can choose to go without. The research university may be the most powerful source of leaders, ideas and economic growth that the world has ever known. A potential decline the research university in particular, may hurt society in ways that no one has begun to estimate. Research is the bedrock for innovation, without which transformation of the social, economic landscape of the African continent will remain a distant dream.
This is a moment when Africa, and, I would argue, the whole world, needs to educate more students —partly because we need them to help solve the challenges the world is facing, and partly because education is the most powerful social and economic equalizer. In fact, it should be the utmost ambition of any society to significantly lower the barriers of access to education. That is why I believe that, as institutions of higher learning, we have an obligation to nurture talents, harness creatively, and exploit the power of information technologies to make education a more effective transformational tool.
We have a duty to explore ways in which new technologies might make on-campus, in-person and distance-based education even better — better at helping students develop their potential, magnify their creativity, extend their networks, achieve their dreams. Online technologies are good at teaching content, and they will get even better.
Indispensable Soft-skills Requirement
However, technologies are essentially assistive. A greater challenge before education in Africa is to infuse the requisite soft but indispensable skills, those that one learns through human interaction, such as how to compromise, inspire, persuade; how to build a life of high ethics and moral value; how to work creatively with people of different backgrounds; when, and how, to speak — and when, and how, to listen. That is why, re-inventing the notion of education from imparting piecemeal knowledge to harnessing talents, is far more efficacious. Talent, notes McKinsey, is “the sum of a person’s abilities, his or her intrinsic gifts, skills, knowledge, experience, intelligence, judgment, attitude, character and drive. It also includes the ability to learn and grow”.
On the ‘Raison D’etre’ of Education
Let me now turn to an important issue, often ignored as purely philosophical and abstract: what is the ultimate purpose of university education? Is it merely to prepare students for the labor market? The simple answer, but merely proximate one is: yes, we want to produce the best, competitive and competent graduates. We want all our programs to infuse the right skill sets demanded by the market, to enhance the employability of our students. However, ultimately it is our shared duty to make sure these outcomes serve humanity. By implication, education becomes a means rather than an end in itself; a platform that enables our students to become fully integrated persons, whole, sound and ‘sui compos’.
So what can KIM do? What should KIM do? We have already demonstrated our leadership in providing market relevant programs. KIM has a proven history of offering management education that is skill-based and competency driven, setting her products apart in the Rwandan labor market. KIM’s philosophy of educating the whole person sits comfortably with requirements of Rwanda’s EPRDSII. Given these strengths, we have a special responsibility to shed light on the grand educational questions of our time, to figure out how to take advantage of the opportunities, and to chart a sustainable path to the future. KIM should not just participate, but should help define the frontier.
As a private institution of higher learning, KIM has distinguished itself as a competitive player in the education industry in Rwanda, providing market-driven programs, thanks to the high employability rate of our graduates.
Our Strategic Priorities
During my tenure in office I intend to leverage this distinctive capability and make KIM the preferred University in Rwanda, the Great Lakes region, Africa and, an avid global partner. Here are our key strategic priorities:
- Establishing Open and e-Learning Culture
KIM has a sound IT infrastructure which has a great potential to serve an important pedagogical tool. We want to move beyond this paradigm of using IT merely as a tool. We intend to make it a key driver of our education system and culture, ensuring that both the contents and contexts of our programs, are compliant with and meet the best ICT standards. Thankfully, the Republic of Rwanda Education Sector Strategic Plan 2010-15 is emphatic on the need for an ICT driven education system. Integrating ICT into the delivery structure not only addresses the problems of inefficiency in delivery but also serves as an important measure for cost management in the long run. Investing in IT pays greater dividend. We intend to move from the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ delivery process to a blended learning approach, integrating the face to face class-based delivery with on-line asynchronous on-line learning. This will not only improve our pedagogical approach, but also, and more significantly, enable a more effective engagement of students in the learning process. We believe the dream of learner-based education can best be achieved by harnessing our existing technological capabilities.
Lest we risk standing accused of doing nothing more than expanding the scope of assistive technology, we intend to render technology an important enabling strategic decision tool for generating practical solutions for business problems. In particular, we want our students to become avid decision-makers, rather than theoretic speculators. To achieve this, we shall make use of decision tools and software developed by renowned companies like Capsim, People-Soft, IBM. In due course, we shall develop memorandum of understanding with these companies. Fortunately, in our previous role as Academic Director of Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African L eaders (Notre Dame, USA) we developed a great working relationship with them.
- Developing new market relevant, transformational and innovative programs
Even as a young University, KIM has been privileged by the strategic orientation to integrate in all its education programs, a praxeological component: providing market driven skills; which is embodied in its strategic intent – “skills for competencies”. During our tenure, we shall leverage on this by developing innovative and market relevant programs which respond to the strategic priorities set by the EPDRS II. Taking in account the economic needs and national strategic priorities, without prejudice to the regional and African-wide economic needs, we set ourselves to develop the following programs:
- Agri-business and Rural Development: Rwanda’s economy is overwhelmingly agrarian, with more than 85% of the population engaged in farming, and mainly subsistent farming. By 2017 we intend to launch practical, skill based programs on agribusiness, value-addition, which will enable our students to actively engage in land, crop management, and animal husbandry.
- Information technology and Cybersecurity: We shall not only make bold strides towards aggressive use of technology in all our programs. We shall also develop practical courses which offer the hands-on skills our graduates need to respond to the demands for proficient technologists, in particular: computer maintenance and repairs; trouble-shooting; network management. This will boost employability of our students as well as promote self-employment among them.
In response to the global challenge of cyber-security, we shall design practical courses offer practical skills to our graduates to counter security threats emanating from cyber-crimes particularly in the areas of Banking, Finance, and Insurance.
- Health services management:
The wealth of nation depends on the health of its citizens. KIM wants to be a partner in ensuring that Rwanda becomes a healthier society. We are aware that quite apart from lack of access to adequate health facilities, a key challenge in the health sector is effective management of the health facilities and resources. KIM has gained leverage in providing professionally attuned business courses. We shall leverage on our competency to develop health care management programs aimed at providing managerial skills to health care professionals.
- Mainstreaming Professional & Vocational skills:
While promoting academic excellence and ensuring all our programs meet the highest standards established by HEC and other quality organs (national, regional and global) we shall ensure that our courses are skill based. For instance, our graduate in computer science will come out ready for the job market with distinctive requisite skills certification such as Cyberoam Certified Network and Security Professional (CCNSP).
- Centers for Research and Development
To foster an effective and constructive partnership between KIM, the society and other partners locally and internationally, we shall establish centers that respond to the triple pillars of academic excellence, industry relevance and socio-economic transformation or the pursuit of the common good. The following centers will enable KIM achieve synergy between academic programs and social engagement:
- Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Business Incubation: the aim of this center shall be to identify and harness innovative ideas from the students, enable them to turn them into viable business ideas. The center will serve as an incubator for entrepreneurship among students, instilling requisite skills for developing business plans.
- Wealth Creation and Development: The classic assumption that the measure of economic success and growth is GDP has been questioned and found wanting by leading economists of our time – the Nobel laureates Joseph Stigliz, Amartya Sen, and Fitousi. Their plea on the preponderance of wellbeing over GDP has received warm receptions from developed nations, seeking new measures of success that capture the true living conditions of the people. There is an even greater urgency to elicit indicators which are more relevant to the African economic experience. As a modern University, in a nation that is undergoing rapid transformation, KIM will make a bold stride in this direction by creating a research center for wealth creation, using new economic metrics and contribute to the global discourse. However, in doing this, KIM wants to be at the center of policy reformulation on economic development in the region. .I will take a lead in this, building on my previous research in this area.
- Gender, Leadership and Business
In the African context, and Rwandan society as well, women’s participation in business is a far cry from being desirable, despite the fact that they continue to bear the burden of supporting families. KIM intends to take a lead in promoting women’s entrepreneurial initiatives and enabling women to take their role in society as creative, innovative and productive business entrepreneurs. The Center for Gender, Business and Leadership will equip our female graduates with the skills they need to start up their own businesses, to ‘spark’ and create their identity in a world where they are often rendered second rate. To institutionalize gender concerns at KIM and the society at large, we wish to set up a Gender Mainstreaming Directorate.
- Community Outreach and Urban Plunge:
Institutions of higher learning are called to connect with industry and the society at large and assume their role as agents of social transformation. Community-based engagement does not only entail leveraging our knowledge and skills to the benefit of communities but also provides a platform for experiential learning for our students and leads to new knowledge and /or new approaches to addressing socio-economic issues of our time. Our KIM students shall take the lead in developing communities around us. This partnership will strengthen the bond between KIM and the community. We shall create a Community Outreach policy and center to be led by our KIM students. This center will serve as a global window for our students and international student bodies, as a platform for establishing strategic collaboration between KIM students and students from other continents, USA, Europe and Asia.
- Research and Global Outreach
We should use KIM’s IT infrastructure to create the best online education possible, and we should actively seek ways to make that education affordable and accessible for hundreds of thousands of students, or more. At the same time, we should figure out how these technologies can strengthen the education we offer here on our own campus. I am determined to find the right way to address these large questions, and I will seek advice from across our staff and other stakeholders on how best to proceed.
In this new era of online education, we need to position KIM as a creative hub: We should become a source for insights into how these technologies can serve both our own universities and institutions around us.
We know that new educational technologies will change education, deeply and quickly. If we want the research to thrive in this new landscape, we must make sure that its value is obvious to all, staff and students.
Let me identify important ways we will support and enable research work.
First, we must all be champions of basic research. Unfortunately, important segments of our society do not seem to fully appreciate this connection. Even more unfortunately, academic establishments continue to look at research as costly and therefore, superfluous. If a society gives up on basic research, it is giving up on its future. So it will be my job — and our shared responsibility — to argue forcefully, effectively and publicly for retaining robust investment in fundamental research, and to remind ourselves, and our nation, of its importance and value.
Second, we must make new and bold steps to create and support a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. With the right facilities, alliances and programs, identified by our staff, we can build one of the most powerful engines of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country and region.
Third, we must realize our full potential as a university with regional impact. I believer, our duty is to prepare our students to succeed in a global economic environment, even as they create impact in our own country. So it is extremely important that foster active engagement with the rest of the world. Our challenge is to grow a network of global collaboration, with other academic institutions as well as Industry.
Finally, I will lead KIM to make significant contributions in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. I am asking every member of the administration to work closely with me to make sure that our best practices become the norm across KIM.
Beyond such practical changes, I believe we still have some learning to do together, as a community. I know myself some of what it feels like to be different. I never experienced it at KIM, but I have experienced it. We must find new ways to make sure that everyone who earns a place here can feel — as so many of us already do — that KIM is their home.
I have big dreams and goals for KIM. I want us to help invent the future of higher education, and to use that wisdom to make our own brand of education even better. I want us to make substantial contributions to solving Africa’s great challenges and to help Africa take its place in the world as a partner in global transformation. I want our students and staff to continue to extend KIM’s reach and impact around the globe. And I want every single member of our community to feel at home at KIM.
Leading KIM to make significant contributions in all of these domains may appear ambitious – too ambitious. However, basing on Kim’s historic achievements thus far, I do not think it is ambitious at all.
Let me now close by telling our academic staff: I am one of you, a colleague foremost. We share the same aspirations, principles and values. We have the same aspirations – to nurture our talents, to be globally competitive. To our students: I know that KIM is your home. Your alma mater. To the parents and guardians of our students: you are the support base of KIM. To our corporate partners, and to our many friends: thank you for your support, shared commitment and high expectations. Our BOD and Chairman: your vision, investments and efforts are the life-force of KIM. We want you to be proud of us. In short, to all the members of the remarkable KIM community: we are all in this great enterprise together. We have a great deal to accomplish, our country Rwanda and the world are waiting to see a real difference. Our vision is not a lofty set of aspirations. It embodies the aspirations of Rwanda’s Higher Education Vision 2020 – “supporting the development of a dynamic, entrepreneurial and internationally competitive Rwanda through the production of a skilled and educated graduate workforce and the carrying out of research, innovation and knowledge transfer to meet the needs of the economy and enhance the quality of life of all”. During my tenure as Vice Chancellor, we shall not only realize these aspirations. We want to surpass these aspirations. Together we can, we will and therefore, we must make KIM the pride of Rwanda, of the Great Lakes and Africa. My greatest passion is Africa, a people, a continent that takes her place in the world, shares her unique identity, engages creatively with the rest of the world in transforming the ecosystem, enriches human civilization her unique values, with her charm, dignity and gait. Education is an important conduit towards this.
Prof. Peter John Opio
(MA, MBA, STL, PhD, STD)
Vice Chancellor/Rector KIM University