Stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship in Kenya: What role for performance based research funding?

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Image credit: Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Kenya’s development blueprint (Vision 2030) acknowledges that science, technology and innovation (STI) plays a fundamental role in a modern economy, with knowledge at the center of boosting economic growth and global competitiveness. Highlighting the need for effective exploitation of knowledge, the strategy further elucidates that an effective innovation system which can tap into knowledge, and incorporate and adapt it to local needs to create new knowledge and appropriate technology is critical. The innovation system is described here as a network of research centres, universities, think tanks, private enterprises and community groups.

With research institutes and universities at the centre of knowledge generation and recreation, hence key in engineering Kenya’s transition to a knowledge-based economy, the central question remains; to what extent are they contributing to intellectual property and entrepreneurship?

A study by The Scinnovent Centre sought to investigate the contribution of Kenyan universities and public research institutes to industrial property (IP) rights applications and grants for the period 1990 – 2013. The analysis, covered different types of IP rights including  patents, utility models and industrial designs by individual universities and public research institutes,  including those filed and/or granted in partnerships with other actors.

The study findings revealed that contrary to the popular expectation that universities and public research institutes will engineer Kenya’s transition to the knowledge-based economy while steering the rapid transition to middle income status espoused in the country’s Vision 2030, their performance is dismal and does not inspire the confidence assumed in the Vision 2030 and the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy (2008). The private sector and individual investors outperform them in every IP segment.

While the Vision 2030 outlines various strategies for promoting STI, among them increased funding for basic and applied research to intensify innovation, these findings reveals that the panacea may not just lie in increased funding.

In a recently published policy brief based on the findings, the study recommends two options that could stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship from these knowledge-based institutions:

i) Competitive ranking of universities and

(ii) Instituting a performance-based research funding model as a means of stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship.

The study concluded that current university ranking based on Webometrics and Performance Contracting in the Civil Service provide useful lessons and experiences, that should be modified and improved towards a performance-based research funding model for universities and public research institutes.

The study further explored the experiences of other countries in performance-based research funding, and explains how such a funding model may be implemented in Kenya. It sets out the rationale for such a funding model, highlights its merits and demerits, assesses the impacts and explores whether such a system fits within Kenya’s context.

Download the policy brief here