On a bright Tuesday, 1st November 2011 afternoon, something monumental and historic happened as Ugandans witnessed the Kiira EV, a flashy green vehicle made its first test runs around Makerere university campus roads. If you missed the story, you can catch up on the university site or the popular gadget site engadget.
I received this news with mixed feelings. I was partly thrilled by the great potential and talent young Ugandans and Africans at large have. It proves the fact that you don’t have to look silicon valley in the U.S or Foxconn city in China or wherever for a pool of talent to take your business to the next level. For years now, the business community and the academia have been two discrete entities that operate independent of each other.
Its true, Universities produce a skilled labor force that eventually runs the business community. However, that should not be where the story ends. Universities should be the spring board for research and development that should fuel growth and profitability of many businesses in the country.
Sadly this is not the case. Every year university students at least in Makerere’s faculty of technology(where I studied from) now called CEDAT are tasked to do unique projects that MUST be viable for the business community as part of the course curriculum. Most of these brilliant projects, however, end up in the university archives. More so every year, the Faculty arranges a special event called the “Technology Open day” that’s supposed to showcase various innovations by the students.
However, shockingly companies and businesses don’t even send their representatives to scout out any viable projects that could make business sense to them. As a result intelligent, smart ideas and innovations vanish in the dark and such events become routine to students while companies and businesses continue to struggle in an ever competitive market. This needs to change.
Telecoms such as MTN Uganda should be sponsoring or funding a team of students to develop a low cost [solar] powered mobile phone for its customers in the rural areas. The result is more money for MTN and possible jobs for the soon graduating students. If students can develop an electric car, why not a GSM mobile phone? That’s just one example, but you as a business owner or IT manager of a company can tap into this talent by buying one or two final year projects developed by university students.
For example a simple time management software developed by third year computer science students as their final year project will enable you keep track of your staff. That will save you operational costs involved with monitoring your staff. A local manufacturing factory in collaboration with the university can task third year electrical engineering students to carry out an energy audit for it, for a small fee. Students are energetic, creative and have lots of time to develop for you the best solution for your company at a small cost.
Research and Development requires talent and money. The money should be provided by the business community. In return businesses will be able to reap the benefits through introduction of new products, product improvement, production process optimization for manufacturing sector which translates into more revenue streams for them.
This will encourage a culture of creativity and innovation in students and strengthen the ties between universities and the business community. Until then, projects such as the Kiira EV will only bring short lived joy and hope but will end up in the varsity warehouse.
Image source: evworld.com