Opinion

Support innovative university students

Support innovative university students

A prototype of the satellite designed by Kenyatta University students at the KU Cube innovation hub based at Chandaria Business Innovation & Incubation Centre on August 25, 2021.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

As higher education becomes increasingly expensive and digital technologies ever more instrumental to the education experience, institutions are forced to alter their business models and service offerings to remain relevant to societies, economies and, most importantly, students.

Today’s undergraduates are tomorrow’s employees; as such, they’re one of the major sources of future innovations in organisational settings. Before they enter the labour market, it’s in the context of higher education that they start developing long-term attitudes, values and behaviours as emerging adults. That includes innovation behaviours.

Moreover, graduates’ outcomes or competences could be widely defined as the final products or the result of the whole university experience, and innovation is one of those expected ones.

However, there is a lack of feasible means and methods to promote undergraduate’s innovation capabilities. In today’s competitive environment, governments and universities need to develop new partnerships with leading companies, foundations and other research-intensive institutions. That would provide critical funding for talented faculty and students to pursue foundational research, enable them to exchange ideas with the very best minds within and outside the academy and, perhaps most importantly, help to prepare students to be citizens of a rapidly changing world.

To design and implement meaningful innovation, educators must connect with students. Their thinking needs to be informed by the actual — rather than partial or imagined — expectations and experiences of students. Dialogue should be brought into all innovative teaching initiatives. Innovators need to be connected to the “why”.

Nothing sinks educators’ willingness to take risks like lack of clarity about institutional priorities or, even worse, trust in its authenticity. There are many reasons to do things the way they are always done: Gatekeepers, workload, headspace, fear of failure or unforeseen consequences.

To choose to do, or even to think, something new takes courage. This is at the core of much of the work of educators. They need to have a toolkit of approaches to use to support and guide students — scaffolding new ideas, making role models visible, creating opportunities for peer learning, fostering feelings of belonging. The approaches can also be used to support educators as they dare to try new ways.

A number of government policies can increase the incentives to innovate — including guaranteeing intellectual property rights; government assistance with the costs of research and development; and cooperative research ventures between universities and companies.

A regular revision of academic programmes while considering market needs is also essential.

Amos Jaganyi, Kisumu