Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovation Editor
The construction of six innovation hubs at the country’s five State universities, to drive innovation and technological advances in the country’s industrial sector is now complete, Secretary for Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Prof Fanuel Tagwira says.
He told The Herald recently that the construction of some innovation hubs superstructures had been completed at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), Midlands State University (MSU) and the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) while construction at the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) was at 95 percent.
“Government has spent close to $18 million on innovation hubs construction while $1 million was disbursed for the purchase of equipment for the five completed hubs at universities,” Prof Tagwira said.
“About $6 million has been spent on industrial parks so far.”
Innovation hubs provide a platform for innovators and researchers to develop their innovations up to prototypes with the aid of experienced staff in the area of technical skills development, entrepreneurship and business incubation.
“Once they develop and test their prototypes, these will then be weaned to industrial parks where goods and services from innovation parks will be produced for commercial purposes,” said the permanent secretary.
The construction of innovation hubs started last year with six hubs receiving funding under the ministry’s Heritage Based Education 5.0 vision which aims to construct an innovation hub at each of the country’s higher and tertiary institutions.
Government is also targeting to build one industrial park in each province under the administration of an university.
At present, two industrial parks were under construction at UZ and another at Chinhoyi University of Technology in Mashonaland West province.
The construction of innovation hubs in tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe was meant to equip students with knowledge and industrial skills.
“We are in a bid to re-orient our education system to be under five terms of reference which includes teaching, research, community engagement, innovation and industrialisation in order to fill the gap between skills available and skills in deficit,” Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Prof Amon Murwira was quoted as saying early this year.
The hubs were expected to play a central role in developing new products, platforms and solutions that embed best practice to support the country’s industrial and technological development.
The potential for the hubs to be transformational to the country’s industrial sector is enormous, experts say.
“It will unlock new and innovative businesses to bring products and solutions to market, creating long-term and sustainable jobs,” said a UZ scientist.
“It can help to improve the delivery of Zimbabwe’s ambitious development plans to attain the middle income status by 2030. “
The Government was committed to helping transform the country’s industrial sector through robust support for innovation hubs and industrial parks which could improve productivity and reinvigorate the industrial sector.
Price fluctuations posed a major headache during the construction of the innovation hubs.
“Price fluctuations have been a major problem, but, however, institutions have managed to build and complete innovation hubs,” said Prof Tagwira.
“Currently, the institutions are at various stages of equipment procurement.”
Government has over the years repeatedly challenged all the country’s universities to lead the country’s industrialisation process through creating new and supporting existing industries.
Prof Murwira says universities should fulfil their mandate of being the centres of excellence for all scientific and technological innovations.
“Main point is consciousness and design. We should design our systems so that they produce the goods and services we require. We cannot move forward using wrong or misplaced designs. Our design or re-configuration of our higher education should outline what we desire as an output,” Prof Murwira remarked earlier this year at a UZ strategic planning and consultative symposium.
“If an education system produces literacy only, but does not produce goods and services, it then needs to be revisited and improved. Programmes that do not lead to the production of goods and services shall be dropped.”
Zimbabwe is aiming to achieve its vision of becoming an upper middle income economy by 2030 by also tapping into the Education 5.0 Government policy which requires all universities to launch into outcomes-focused national development activities which can help make Zimbabwe’s economy competitive, modern and industrialised.
“Our vision for Zimbabwe is to become a developed upper middle-income economy by 2030. This is only possible if we develop an industry that produces quality goods and services, if we develop an education system that leads to an industry that produces quality goods and services.
“It is, therefore, important to understand that science is the power that drives industry. Energy from science has to be captured using a particular design, just as fuel needs a strong tank for it to be useful, otherwise it just evaporates,” said Prof Murwira.
Zimbabwe has established a number of strategic research institutions and a number of quasi-government scientific bodies to demonstrate its commitment to promote research and development (R & D) to provide the country with technological solutions for sustainable development.
In addition, to this, it has also established a number of science-based universities to upscale science and technology in the country’s higher learning institutions.
These have provided the country with vast knowledge to inform decision-making and address issues such as providing equitable access to water, food, health, housing, environment, technology, adapting to climate change to secure the country’s future.
Furthermore, Zimbabwe established the Ministry of Science and Technology Development and launched the Second Science, Technology and Innovation Policy in 2012, which sought to make new technology an integral part of individual and national development.
Broadly, innovation hubs aim to bring Zimbabwe to the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is envisaged to bring about fundamental changes to the economics of virtually every industry in the country, SADC region and the world at large.
Government wants to prioritise digitisation and technology and innovation in order to achieve meaningful development in the country and the region.
To meet the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Zimbabwe and the SADC region, the human resource of the future must be conversant with emerging technologies in a number of fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, big data, biotechnology, fifth generation wireless technology and 3D printing.
Innovation hubs are now set to spur creativity in all these fields of study.