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Uganda invests in science training and equipment

African Development Bank finances five-year project

Uganda will launch a US$115 million project next year to upgrade research infrastructure in eight institutions and train scientists.

Most funding for the five-year project comes from a low-interest African Development Bank loan, approved last month.

The ‘Support to Higher Education, Science and Technology’ project will help universities—including Makerere in Kampala and the Mbarara University of Science and Technology, southwest of the capital—to upgrade or build laboratories and purchase research equipment.

The scheme will also boost the number of masters and PhD holders in the country in a bid to meet the spiralling demands of its education system. University enrolments grew from under 100,000 in 2006 to nearly 140,000 in 2011, and are still rising.

The project will offer scholarships for 95 masters and PhD students fresh out of their undergraduate degrees. It will also offer masters and PhD training to more than 100 academics working in Ugandan universities but lacking postgraduate qualifications.

Some universities have been singled out for special support. Gulu University in the north will receive US$10m, some of which will pay for the construction of a laboratory and lecture rooms for its newly created faculty of health sciences.

“The ministry of education has asked us to submit a list of equipment that we need for our laboratories within the next week,” says Jasper Ogwal-Okeng, principal of Lira College, part of Gulu University.

The money will also fund a joint research project focusing on tropical agriculture between Gulu, Makerere and the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

The eight beneficiaries are also expected to set up business incubators in partnership with Ugandan companies to commercialise their research. The incubators will help young firms survive and grow during the start-up period when they are most vulnerable.

“This will spur income generation for the institutions through business creation as well as impart the requisite skills to trainees,” says an ADB report.

Scientists have welcomed the training and capacity building initiative.

Misaki Wayengera, a pathologist from Makerere University, says raising the education level of university staff is essential if Uganda is to have the capacity to train its future scientists.

Gulu’s Ogwal-Okeng says refurbished laboratories will help institutions apply for research funding. “If you don’t have the capacity they don’t give you funding. So this will make it easier to talk to donors,” he says.

Ugandan science officials say the project is not a continuation of the US$33m Millennium Science Initiative, which ends this year. The MSI was funded by a low-interest loan from the World Bank and this latest initiative is a separate project.