University of Zimbabwe set to build links to industry

The university will help researchers commercialise their innovations Copyright: Flickr/mark.taber

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[HARARE] The University of Zimbabwe’s research and innovation capacity is set to get a facelift, with the establishment of a new business unit dedicated to attracting more private funding and helping researchers to commercialise their innovations.

Once ranked among Africa’s leading academic institutions, the University of Zimbabwe has suffered the consequences of brain drain and a dearth of scientific research because of the country’s economic difficulties.

Now, the university is ready to turn a corner, Takaruza Munyanyiwa, pro-vice chancellor responsible for business development, told SciDev.Net. The business unit will work to foster an entrepreneurial system within the university community, by attracting private sector money to research programmes and academic development, and adding value to research output through the commercialisation of innovations. It will aim to eventually make the university’s funding self-sustaining.

The university will provide seed funding for the unit. Key research focus areas to be supported by the new business focus include the development of animal vaccines, cassava-based foods, and renewable energy — specifically solar power and non-carbon fuels.

The business thrust will focus on setting up new partnerships, patents and trademarks. The strategy framework for the unit will be launched later this year.

"We do not want to be a traditional university, we need to be current and adopt new thinking," said Munyanyiwa. "We want to play a more meaningful role within the economic development of Zimbabwe through science and academic skills, including harnessing those skills in the diaspora. We need a new culture of research."

"First we need to build trust between the public and private partnerships. We have lots of lessons to draw from [the world’s] leading universities," said Munyanyiwa.

But an independent economic commentator, Eric Blochof, said strategic business units would only work in a robust economy. With Zimbabwe’s economy still in the woods, he said, it will be a struggle to run it effectively because both the university itself and the private sector have little cash to go around.

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis of more than ten years has lead to the evaporation of research skills, dried up bilateral research grants and removed the University of Zimbabwe from the global radar of research and academia.

The university unveiled its new plans at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, last month (3–7 May).