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The Kenyan parliament has passed a motion urging the government to establish a new research fund for the country's six public universities. The fund would support research activities of staff and postgraduate students, including the purchase of equipment to modernise the universities.

The motion, proposed by Ayiecho Olweny, the member of parliament (MP) for Muhoroni, received strong support from both the government and the opposition.

Speaking in support in last week's debate, David Nakitare, MP for Saboti, said the low level of funding for research in Kenya's public universities has contributed to a 'brain drain' of academics to other countries.

"The purpose of a university is to expand the frontiers of knowledge through research," said Ekwe Ethuro, MP for Turkana Central. "We do not want to go back to the days when professors were rearing chickens to make ends meet."

Although the motion did not detail how much money would be needed, it is likely to be considerably more than is currently available.

"We do not have figures of what the country would require to finance research activities at the public universities but definitely it will run into billions of shillings," says Wambayi Owate of the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) which funds research activities in Kenya.

"At the moment most institutions, including universities, do not have research programmes because of lack of money," Wambayi Owate told SciDev.Net. "Those that do are funded individually with externally sourced money."

This year, the Kenyan government increased the NCST's budget from Sh3 million (US$37,000) to Sh15 million (US$185,000). But, according to Owate, the NCST has this year approved research projects requiring at least Sh200 million (US$2.5 million) and unless more funds are found, some projects will have to be shelved.

NCST officials say that should the government heed parliament's call, harmonisation of a new research fund with NCST funding could be expected.