Opinion

How Ugandan Engineers are choosing to light candles instead of cursing the darkness

In 2021, the Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE) Kampala Branch launched a scholarship program to support innovations and research by engineering students at universities and other tertiary institutions in Uganda.

By Dr Apollo Buregyeya

In 2021, the Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE) Kampala Branch launched a scholarship program to support innovations and research by engineering students at universities and other tertiary institutions in Uganda.

The Engineering Students Scholarship Program (ESSP) was established to work in the frame of cooperative education where the engineering community, the engineering contractors, and private individuals contribute resources in form of materials, money, mentorship, special industrial supervision, relevant guest lectures, private workspaces, and research tools/equipment to support students in their final years that are conducting academic research that the ESSP committee find to be innovative, scalable, bankable, of high relevance to the local commerce narratives, and contributing to the economic development of Uganda. 

The UIPE is a professional organization established in 1972 (51 years ago) on the primary premise of fostering a collaborative environment where engineers share knowledge, exchange ideas, and promote the engineering profession in Uganda. Today, UIPE has a rich and wide spectrum of vibrant membership that exceeds 2,000 professionals. The membership is not limited to university graduates, but it also includes technicians and technologists who completed their studies at technical and polytechnic institutes. 

As it made 50 years, UIPE renewed its mission to focus on society’s foundational issues of skills development, technology and knowledge ownership, and engineering services markets development to align well with the government’s industrial policies, programs of wealth creation, international competitiveness, and overall economic development of Uganda.

It is common knowledge that nations like Germany that promote technology and knowledge ownership are more prosperous than those that rely on minerals and primary materials for trade. Indeed, the Engineer in Africa still bears an enormous task of addressing society’s traditional problems of energy poverty, technology poverty, knowledge poverty, industry poverty, infrastructure poverty, nutrition poverty, trade poverty, and dependence on low-value commodities, on top of the more recent problems of climate change and environmental degradation. Everything of value either comes from a mine or is grown as a plant, and the engineer is potentially the primary resource in the process of conversion of the primary materials into high-value products and their trade and maximum benefit retention at the source.

A lot has been advanced on the challenges of our engineering education, mainly in the areas of the relevance of the content of learning, and whether it is equipping learners with the skills that the industry needs. The challenges are founded in our perception of the process of education, a perception that excludes the world of work and the greater society and hope that the academic institutions will process a graduate that is neatly finished and packaged like a product from a factory. Education delivers knowledge and knowledge is a social construct that demands all its beneficiaries take part in its development.

The ESSP program is one such effort of UIPE Kampala branch to support engineering education and bring the industry closer to research institutions and academia. 

The fund had a humble target of raising 20 million Uganda shillings in the 2022/23 academic cycle to support four students which it successfully implemented, painfully leaving out an interesting number of applicants that were well deserving. We have now increased our fundraising target to 100 million Uganda shillings to scale our support to at least 20 students.

The ESSP fund has a vision of increasing the visibility of selected research by students through the UIPE annual magazines and other media and supporting the paring of students with strategic industrial players in a cooperative education framework to accelerate the application of students’ research products and transition of talented students and their supported experiences from the lab to industry. 

As Confucius states, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. The ESSP is a great initiative that will bring different industry players together to address gaps between the world of work and what is taught at our universities. ESSP offers the platform for the industry to engage with research and academic institutions in order to address the gaps found in graduates and fresh employees. And, as they say, you can’t turn a vehicle that is not moving.

“Tusimbudde” with the ESSP project and we hope to use the partnerships with academic institutions to support curriculum improvement until we have graduates that are what the industry desires.  Instead of cursing the darkness, we can all choose to do something about the challenges of our society.

We can partner with ESSP and light a candle for the development of our nation.

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Dr Apollo Buregyeya is the Chairperson, UIPE Kampala ESSP Committee and a Lecturer at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT), Makerere University.
Email: kampalabranch@uipe.co.ug



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