Kick off meeting in Paris
After an initial mission to Nairobi in July 2019, the signature of an MoU in 2020 and the signature ceremony of the Tripartite Agreement in Paris on May 11, the ParisTech schools - AgroParisTech, Chimie ParisTech - PSL, École des Ponts ParisTech, Mines Paris - PSL - were back in Kenya to launch concrete activities in partnership with the University of Nairobi and CentraleSupélec. The eleven-strong delegation returned enthusiastically, having witnessed the strong commitment of all partners to the project.
ParisTech schools - AgroParisTech, Chimie ParisTech - PSL, École des Ponts ParisTech, Mines Paris - PSL - travelled to Nairobi in early July to launch the tripartite partnership (University of Nairobi - ParisTech - CentraleSupélec/Université Paris-Saclay) signed on May 11 in Paris.
This partnership is the result of actions that each of the partners had launched beforehand. Indeed, ParisTech had set up the first partnership actions with the Kenyan university back in 2019 thanks to support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Europe as part of the ADESFA program (Support for the Development of French Higher Education in Africa), and then thanks to Erasmus+ funding (International Credit Mobility), which enabled cross-mobility despite the pause due to the pandemic. CentraleSupélec was also in contact with this university. The visit of a Kenyan delegation to ParisTech in 2022 was the occasion for a working meeting bringing together all the French schools involved on the CentraleSupélec campus.
The signature of this Tripartite Agreement enables us to capitalize on the efforts made by each of our partners, and to join forces to achieve the same objective: to support the UoN in setting up its Centers of excellence, and to contribute to the opening up of each of our graduate schools to Africa.
Over the course of the five days, various conferences, workshops and meetings were held to enable the partners to define and plan concrete actions to support the construction of the Engineering and Science Complex and the overhaul of engineering training.
The week kicked off with an inaugural session at which Stephen Kiama, Vice-Chancellor of UoN, said that the Complex would enable his university to position itself at the forefront of education, research and innovation in East Africa, and contribute to the economic development of the country and the region, while addressing global challenges and increasing the employability of students. He welcomed the creation of the Corporate Advisory Committee, which includes the five companies present that day - Bureau Veritas, Saint-Gobain, Schneider Electric, Total Energies and Elgon Kenya.
Arnaud Suquet, French Ambassador to Kenya, joined the Vice-Chancellor on the issue of global challenges, in particular food security and climate change, and asserted that this emblematic project of Franco-Kenyan cooperation should in particular enable the development of cross-mobility of students and staff. Bertrand Willocquet, the Regional Director of the French Agency for Development (AFD), emphasized the win-win nature of this partnership. Finally, on behalf of the French schools, Fethi Bedioui, Director of International Relations at Chimie ParisTech, emphasized the major role played by the University of Nairobi in the region; the schools are delighted to be able to support its development.
This was followed by three days of workshops organized by the Directorate of University Advancement & Institutional Development at the University of Nairobi and coordinated by Marc Zolver, who has been an international technical expert with this Directorate since September. This enabled all participants to get to know the partners better, and the experts to make valuable contacts for the future.
Each workshop was devoted to one of the pillars of the partnership: university-business relations, research and innovation, education and internationalization. Each workshop was highly participative, with small-group discussions bringing together representatives from the French schools, the Faculty of Science and Technology and the Faculty of Engineering, at the heart of the Complex's construction, as well as the Faculty of Agriculture and the Faculty of Business and Management. The French delegation was impressed by the organization of these days and the richness of the discussions with Kenyan partners and between faculties
The participation of companies in the workshop on university-company relations was particularly appreciated. They had the opportunity to present the challenges of the partnership from their point of view, the difficulties they encountered in recruiting, and how they would like to get involved with the University of Nairobi. In this way, participants were able to identify the obstacles to cooperation between the university and companies, as well as possible solutions. The Kenyan company Elgon Kenya presented the Agricultural Technology Innovation Center (ATIC) it is financing, which will be set up on the Faculty of Agriculture campus in the coming months.
Discussions highlighted focal points, particularly in terms of university-business relations and research and innovation. The University of Nairobi is already involved in a number of innovation initiatives (e.g. C4D on the Chiromo campus), and the French partners are committed to supporting them in their overall structuring and expansion. The challenge now is to build a sustainable business model that will ensure the future of the Complex.
As far as engineering training is concerned, the University of Nairobi still has to define the exact scope of the activity (bachelor and/or master level, curriculum, duration of training courses, etc.) concerned, and decide between several scenarios proposed by the workshop participants:
Finally, regarding internationalization, Anne Nkoidila, who is spearheading the creation of the Office of international relations with the support of Marc Zolver, presented an overview of the current situation, which provided an opportunity to exchange views on the organization of this activity in the different French schools.
After this three-day collective sequence, the ParisTech schools took advantage of their stay to introduce themselves to around twenty bachelor and master students in science and engineering (chemistry, geology, energy...) interested in the engineering curricula offered by the schools for some of them, and in research internships or even a PhD for others.
The schools then met with people working in their respective fields. Chimie ParisTech visited the Department of chemistry at the Faculty of Science and Technology; AgroParisTech visited the Faculty of Agriculture, and in particular the Department Food Science, Nutrition and Technology; and École des Ponts ParisTech and Mines Paris visited the Civil Engineering and Environment and Biosystems Engineering Departments at the Faculty of Engineering. These were all opportunities to begin identifying subjects of common interest and to discuss future cooperation arrangements: hosting PhD students and trainees in France, researcher mobility, student exchange mobility, distance learning, cotutelles and research projects.
Representatives from AgroParisTech also met with Vincent Abt, counsellor for agriculture, who has set up a French Agro Club bringing together French and Kenyan companies, and those from École des Ponts ParisTech and Mines Paris with Matthieu Ecoiffier, counsellor for sustainable development and Julie Trognon, who heads up the Renewable Energies-Sustainable City Club. The schools were thus able to gather valuable information to help them understand the environment in which their Kenyan partners operate and the issues they face. Lastly, École des Ponts ParisTech got back in touch with the Seureca office, which the schools had already met in 2019; the meeting opened up promising prospects for cooperation.
Finally, the French delegation took stock of the situation, both with the Ambassador and the Scientific and University Cooperation Department monitoring the project, and with the AFD regional office. It is indeed a major flagship project for both Kenya and France that is taking shape.
With the cornerstone of the Engineering and Science Complex due to be laid in 2024, and opening scheduled for 2027, work will now be structured in each pillar around a Franco-Kenyan pairing, or even a committee to steer activities.
Scientific workshops should be held in the autumn to enable researchers to share their work and identify specific synergies and avenues for cooperation. Researchers from the French schools are expected to participate, at least remotely, in the Research and Innovation Week that the University of Nairobi traditionally organizes in the autumn. And the first cotutelle PhD between the University of Nairobi and Chimie ParisTech is being set up to start in January 2024 with Serah Wanjiku, who has already completed a six-month Master's internship at the French school thanks to Erasmus+ funding.
A second workshop on education should be organized so that experts can work on the different scenarios that have emerged and propose the one best suited to the University of Nairobi. Online courses could be shared. Teaching missions should also take place, as was already the case last November for Chimie ParisTech. The University of Nairobi will also have to define more precisely what it wishes to do in the Centers of excellence, so that the interior design of the Complex matches the activities envisaged.
In short, a win-win partnership that opens up great opportunities for both parties.