quarta-feira, 10 de janeiro de 2018

Education to answer our national problem

Esta é a entrevista dada peloo Professor Amon Murwira, Ministro do Ensino Superior e Tecnologia do Zimbábue, um conjunto de ideias muito interessante que pode ser um excelente referencial para outras iniciativas.

Education to answer our national problems
January 6, 2018 

Prof Murwira . . . “Translation parks or innovation hubs are the bridges from knowledge to industry. We cannot talk about industrialisation without talking about its preparatory stages. We have a lot of knowledge in universities, we have to have a way of harvesting that knowledge to make products and services.”

THE INTERVIEW: Leeroy Dzenga

New Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Professor Amon Murwira (AM) is one of the new Cabinet ministers sworn in as the country entered the new dispensation. A scientist of repute, Prof Murwira speaks to Features Writer Leroy Dzenga (LD) on his intentions to bridge the gulf between the classroom and industry through programmatic research which answers the country`s problems.

LD: Congratulations on your appointment Prof, what is your assessment of the portfolio you inherited?
AM: We have students who are around 70 000 and I am quite honoured to have been given this assignment. It also comes as a challenge at the same time, because this is the ministry that shapes the professions of people.
The state of higher and tertiary education is that we have many universities, we have many teachers’ colleges and other tertiary institutions, but now is the time of quality. It is the time to produce people that drive this country forward.
Education without goods and services is education that is moribund. It is education that is dead, we want to make sure that people are doing research that matters. The status of our education is that we have a high literacy rate, but this is time to translate knowledge to help the country in a programmatic manner.

LD: How do you intend to ensure that the education is of a desired quality?
AM: We must have research programmes that we fund, that universities can take up and participate in, which end up producing products which are of use nationally.
At the same time, we must have what are called translation centres at universities, that translate what is known into goods and services. That’s why we are going to implement science parks and innovation hubs on at least six state universities within the next 200 days.

LD: May you elaborate more on what translation centres are?
AM: These knowledge translation centres are the bridge between the industry and the knowledge. We were lacking a translation to say, after a student does a nice project and gets a certificate, there wasn’t a centre which would try to apply the idea in real life situations. These are places where academic ideas are turned into industry solutions.
Innovation hubs are where the knowledge is converted into prototypes, where they are developed into production chains in the industrial parks. So, if a student has proven that their idea works, the next thing is to create a production line for it. That production line is prepared first in an innovation or science hub to make it ready for production, that’s how we grow industry.
It is nice to talk about industrialisation, but we need the infrastructure and structures which make us serious enough for implementation.
Translation parks or innovation hubs are the bridges from knowledge to industry. We cannot talk about industrialisation without talking about its preparatory stages. We have a lot of knowledge in universities, we have to have a way of harvesting that knowledge to make products and services.
This can be done through innovation hubs, which I call translation parks. This is what we want to seriously do, the time to think without action is over.

LD: So are we going to see a change of direction in the path that the ministry was following in terms of projects and ideas?
AM: The dimension we are bringing to the ministry is less trivia and more action.
We are going to have a programmatic approach to our work. This dimension does not destroy any initiative, but the most important thing is continuing with things that work and discarding things that don’t work. The definition of dullness in science is trying to use the same formula and expecting to get the same result.

LD: Among the early actions you took as soon as you assumed office was to send the Zimdef top management on leave to pave way for a forensic audit. What is the status of the audit now?
AM: The forensic audit is taking place. One of the main things that we want to do as a ministry is to make sure that governance within our parastatals and institutions follows best practice.
It is only when we follow best practices that people see the benefits of our existence in the first place. You cannot develop a country when your books are not in order, when people are not observing that they are working for the people. So, one of the most important things is to get our books in order, otherwise it would punch holes into our efforts.
The first thing is to objectively clean the ministry of malpractice. The audit is taking place, we will get the results and basing on the results which we are expecting by January 31 from the Auditor-General, we will take action that is appropriate, action that will be responding to the findings. For a forensic audit to take place, by governance best practice, all management has to be sent on leave so that they don’t reduce the integrity of the forensic report.

LD: The previous administration in the ministry had started plans on student grants, what is your stance towards the idea?
AM: It is important to note that this is a ministry that trains people, so our centre of attraction are students. If we do not make it possible for students to study, then there will not be a need for us as a ministry.
We will look into ways that make sure we lessen burdens on our students so that they concentrate on learning. But, at the end of the day, we also do not want to be promising people things that we cannot deliver.
Populism has never built a country but realism. I think there was some initiative with some banks to give loans to our students, but those loans had a very low uptake. We want to know why? Maybe it was the way that it was structured.
There are statistics from one of our universities where only 39 students signed up for the loan. We want to study its weaknesses and then we will be able to model it appropriately in a way that will be able to help our students. The taxpayer is burdened, so we cannot keep throwing levies to their income, there could be an outcry.
We know that the fiscal space is very low, so we will try to use innovative methods such as bank loans to make sure our students access money for fees. But as you know, we don’t prevent our students from writing exams due to non-payment of tuition.

LD: Still on that issue, there have been reports of an increase in the number of students who are deferring during the course of their study.
Could there be a tentative time frame students who are struggling for tuition could expect a more concrete word from your ministry?
AM: This is a primary objective, so it is not a thing we will look at later. We are already working on the ideas. What I cannot promise is that we will have an answer tomorrow because it has to be sustainable. Like I said, it is not about populism, it is about realism. We have sorted out the accommodation issue with the Ministry of Finance (and Economic Planning), we made a joint statement on December 24, remember we did not go on holiday. In the statement, we said we have plans for our students, especially in accommodation.
Eleven thousand of our 70 000 students are in university accommodation, 59 000 are seeing what they can do and we don’t like that. As a ministry together with Ministry of Finance, we are saying universities should get into Public, Private Partnerships (PPPs), which we will guarantee. They will also go into Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangements, where a bank or an institution can go build accommodation at a university. Instead of students paying accommodation fees to the university, the company will be receiving it until the time when the money used to build the accommodation is recovered plus profit.
What we have told those institutions is that the fees for accommodation must be miles below the current accommodation fees and then we can agree how long the concession can go for.
Students are living in squalid conditions in rented accommodation whose quality we can’t ascertain. How do you read when you are sharing the room with seven people? It is not right. We expect to have cranes within the next 200 days at state universities.

LD: There have been concerns about honorary degrees which are being given by universities, with some suggesting that they reduce the integrity of local academia. What is your reaction?
AM: Honorary degrees are by definition honorary. There are procedures that are followed by universities before they give honorary degrees.
As long as the procedure of the honorary degree has been followed, there is no problem. Their number doesn’t matter if the processes have been followed, because they exist to honour.
Some people contribute to society and a university honours them for their efforts. But if we call you Doctor when you have an honorary degree, it does not mean you can practise with it.
We respect academic freedom, we make institutions and put people there to think. So, we can’t control what they think, this is why most academics are outspoken because that is the dictum of academic freedom. In academia, rules and regulations of degrees are laid and interpreted by academia, the rest of us can only watch.
Government cannot be seen interfering with academia, as long as their regulations are followed. Degrees are not the jurisdiction of anyone else except the university.

LD: We heard sometime ago that polytechnics will be offering degrees, is it still going to be the case?
AM: Polytechnics have always given degrees through the B-Tech programme, but they can only offer them in conjunction with a university.
But a situation whereby we say polytechnics become universities and everything they offer becomes a degree defeats the purpose they were created in the first place. I can say as a scientist, polytechnics serve a vital role in skills development.
There is no industry that runs without a technician. The production of technicians through polytechnics is key if this country is to be industrialised.
There is separation of speciality, polytechnics are internationally known best practice and we are here to guarantee that. We cannot pretend that polytechnics are now university, that is dangerous populism because we will be fooling ourselves.

LD: There is a situation that people who come from polytechnics have to restart their programmes if they are to further their skills in a university.
AM: That is going to change very soon. People from polytechnics should not restart when they go to a university. We are going to do a national qualifications framework, which is going to talk about exemptions.
We will be exempting people from repeating courses they have done, in the same way that the American semester system works. So a person who has a polytechnic qualification may have to start in second or third year, that is our solution towards integrated progression. But we cannot convert polytechnics to universities, that is impractical politics based on populism. Polytechnics were not created by mistake.

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