1st National Policy Forum for STI Held: Academia Encouraged to Take Lead in the National STI Ecosystem

The 1st National Policy Forum for Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) ended with calls for academia in Uganda to take lead in the STI ecosystem by identifying talent, knowledge management as well as creation of links with industry to support innovations. This is based on the effective models witnessed across the world as associated with the universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford in the United States of America, and University of Cape Town in South Africa. It was reiterated that a better STI ecosystem will help catalyze national development for Uganda.

Makerere University through its College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) organized, hosted, and virtually held the 1st National Policy Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovations (STIs) Advancement for Development on the August 26th and 27th, 2021 under the theme “Positioning STI to address emerging threats to national development”. Makerere University deemed it strategic to initiate a national multi-stakeholder dialogue with an aim of contributing to the discourse on the role of STI in socio-economic transformation of the country even in the face of global and national challenges such as Covid – 19. Assoc. Prof. Arthur Tugume, Head - Department of  Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology chaired the organizing team.

In the opening remarks delivered by the Deputy Vice Chancellor/ Academic Affairs, Makerere University Prof. Kakumba Umar on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Makerere University; Prof. Nawangwe Barnabas, he said ‘Makerere is well positioned with capacity to support STI for national development in Uganda’. He thanked H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for the vision in establishing the Presidential Initiative for Science and Technology that benefited various colleges of Makerere University and enabled staff as well students to initiate innovations like the KIRA E.V. at the College of Engineering, Design, Art, and Technology. ‘The Government of Uganda has further committed 30bn Uganda shillings towards the Makerere University Research and Innovation Fund (MakRIF) that has supported over 700 projects since 2019’, as an institution, Makerere University is very grateful for this support, the Vice Chancellor noted.

The forum was officially opened by Hon. Dr. Monica Musenero – Minister for Science and Technology, who was the Chief Guest of the conference. In her speech, she thanked the Vice Chancellor, Makerere University and CoNAS for taking lead in the direction of STI especially during the Covid19 pandemic which has affected nations greatly. The Minister advised that ‘publication of research papers is good however, written material is not enough. We need action from government institutions, academia, students and general population otherwise Uganda will not change’. She further noted that ‘research, science and innovation has become too elitist ignoring the simple man/woman in the village reiterating that there has to be a mindset change otherwise nothing will happen’. We must involve the simple man, mother down in the village who is the client for a better Uganda, and I am hopeful that a detailed report of the discussions from this forum will be shared to guide us going forward, the Minister advised.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Fred Muhumuza from Makerere University, College of Business and Management Studies highlighted the most pressing challenges affecting role of STI in national development and the link the in addressing these challenges in Uganda’s STI ecosystem. The challenges highlighted included: Poor coordination and facilitation of training for STI professionals; the increased salaries of science teachers are welcome but should be supported by investment in the leaners and facilities; facilitation of research and development; general and specific financing for all activities in the STI space; and visionary leadership, strategic planning, coordination of policies as well as implementation.

Prof. Eliab Lugujjo, the Vice Chancellor, Ndejje University delivered a presentation on skills and education needed for a modern knowledge-based economy. He noted the need to balance vocational skills and higher education for STI advancement; at what stage/ level of education a scientist or innovator is made, and the gaps in the education system hindering STI advancement. This was a thought-provoking presentation and garnered a lot of discussion.

Multiple exciting presentations by speakers during the forum were delivered and discussions on topical issues of Uganda’s STI ecosystem including skilling our population, pharmaceutics and healthcare systems, agro-industrialization, knowledge economy, e-Commerce, governance, policy, and incubation ecosystems were held during the forum. Participants at the forum included policy makers, researchers, academicians, government leaders, students, and the public. Some of the key issues noted during the forum deliberations are attached in the download links below.