CentraleSupélec – Université Paris-Saclay traveled to Nairobi early July together with four schools of the ParisTech network in order to participate in the first workshops to kick off the tripartite agreement signed last May in Paris.
In 2019, CentraleSupélec took part in the feasibility study for the construction of the Engineering and Science Complex (ESC) that the University of Nairobi wishes to build on its Chiromo campus in Nairobi. Financed by the French Agency for Development (AFD), this project will see the Faculties of Engineering and Science & Technology work together in view of training the engineers that Kenya needs, in accordance with its national strategy 2030. Education, research and innovation will be united in the same building, in strong link with companies and highly internationalized.
Several work visits took place between 2019 and 2022, of the French party to Kenya and the Kenyan party to France. A meeting in 2022 brought together at CentraleSupélec the five schools and the University of Nairobi, the latter wishing to build the ESC in the image of the new campus located on the Saclay plateau.
The construction of the ESC couples with academic cooperation for competence transfer and sharing between the French and Kenyan parties. CentraleSupélec – Université Paris-Saclay and the ParisTech schools will work together with the University of Nairobi on five pillars: governance and business model of the Complex, research & innovation, curricula transformation, industry-academia linkages and internationalization. This visit was an opportunity for the organization of workshops and meetings with various Faculties – not only Engineering and Science & Technology, but also Agriculture and Business & Management – and the Directorate of University Advancement & Institutional Development in order to define more precisely the activities to be undertaken.
The Vice Chancellor and the French Ambassador to Kenya opened the ceremony
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Prof. Stephen Kiama, opened the week by underlining the importance of this cooperation for his Institution, that will not only benefit from one partner, but the expertise of five schools of engineering and one university. The Ambassador of France to Kenya and Somalia, H.E. Arnaud Suquet, added that this tripartite agreement was the flagship project of French academic cooperation in Kenya, that could be replicated in other countries. The ESC is paving the way for cross mobilities of students, including PhD students, researchers, professors and staff and sharing of experiences and best practices for value creation in Kenya.
Bertrand Willoquet, AFD country director in Kenya, pointed out that it was a win-win partnership and that the Complex would respect environmental values in line with the Paris Agreement. The Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Prof. Julius Ogengò, reminded how enthusiastic and impatient the University was to start working with companies to train engineers capable of tackling challenges of the 21st century.
Speaking in the name of the French delegation, Prof. Fethi Bedioui, Director of International Relations at Chimie ParisTech, highlighted the leading role that the University of Nairobi plays in East Africa in terms of education, research and innovation. He reiterated the willingness of the French schools to accompany the Kenyan university to achieve its goals.
Dense program and constructive workshops
Following the inaugural ceremony, several workshops and conferences dedicated to each pillar were organized. The first half-day meeting enabled companies, particularly the five of those already engaged with the University – namely TotalEnergies, Elgon Kenya, Bureau Veritas, Schneider Electric and Saint Gobain, to collaborate with faculty members in order to make needs and expectations arise and to work on their convergence. CentraleSupélec, through its Corporate Partnerships office, is already involved on this pillar. Online modules guided the personnel of the Directorate of University Advancement & Institutional Development, particularly the team led by Marc Zolver, international expert since September 2022, in building fruitful cooperation with companies. Training activities will go on, on-site or online, in view of equipping the University of Nairobi with a department capable of bringing companies closer to education and research.
The second day saw participants discuss research and innovation. In small groups, mixing members of the Faculties of Engineering, Science & Technology, Agriculture and Business & Management, participants reflected on how to improve the University of Nairobi’s research and ways to achieve it, including PhD visiting programs, professor exchanges, joint seminars or closer ties with companies for example. In terms of innovation, the University is already conducting various actions, such as the C4D lab (Computing for Development) on its Chiromo campus or the upcoming ATIC (Agricultural Technology and Innovation Center), financed by Elgon Kenya, on the Faculty of Agriculture campus. The objective is now to capitalize on these initiatives to reinforce innovation and entrepreneurship in Nairobi.
The third day was dedicated to a major subject: curricula transformation. Discussions in small groups saw diverse options emerge to remodel engineering education to better train the professionals that the country and the region need. Various scenarios were considered, from revamping existing curricula to setting up an excellence 5-year engineering degree, by way of creating transversal modules applicable to different programs. The current state of internationalization at the University of Nairobi was also presented by Anne Nkoidila, in charge of setting up a department of international relations with the support of Marc Zolver. The University already applied to the Erasmus+ Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme as coordinator of a consortium of South African (University of Witwatersrand), Rwandan (University of Rwanda) and Nigerian (University of Lagos) universities, of which the European partner is Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University. CentraleSupélec, through its Department of International Affairs, together with Chimie ParisTech and Université Paris-Saclay, will apply to an Erasmus+ Capacity Building project next year. This will be the opportunity for the University of Nairobi to enlarge its pool of expertise with European partners, notably the European Universities EUGLOH and EELISA.
The visit to Nairobi ended with work meetings on industry-academia linkages and the activities and tools to set up in the months to come, and a half-day wrap-up meeting at the French Embassy, with the Ambassador and the Cooperation and Cultural Affairs Department. This meeting was the occasion to draw the agenda of future actions, starting next Fall.
The signature of the agreement in Paris in May and its kick-off in Nairobi in July are paving the way to structuring cooperation in Franco-Kenyan work teams.
This Fall, a second workshop on curriculum transformation will take place in order to make the various options converge on a suitable program for the University of Nairobi. In October, researchers of the French schools and university will participate in the yearly research seminars organized by the Faculties of the University of Nairobi in view of identifying potential areas for scientific cooperation. The Corporate Partnerships Office of CentraleSupélec will continue its mentoring of the Directorate of University Advancement so as to consolidate the industry-academia linkages. The Department of International Affairs will start supporting the University of Nairobi in setting up an office of international relations capable of managing student, professor and staff mobility, as well as the application to and management of European and international funding.
The delegation came back enthusiastic relative to the dawning cooperation with the University of Nairobi and impressed by the richness of discussions and dynamism of the teams. The Engineering and Science Complex is a fantastic project for the University, for the Franco-Kenyan academic cooperation, but also for the five schools and university involved in the way that its enables them to extend their presence on the African continent and particularly East Africa.