Kigali Institute of Management (KIM) University is set to be one of the best higher institutions of learning after upgrading from the International College of Accountancy and Management (ICAM) late last year to a fully university. Prof. Peter John Opio, the University's vice-chancellor, says the new changes were a deliberate decision to ensure that they offer the quality of education needed to the market by offering better skills.
Education Times' Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti caught up with the don, who explained the university's mission and vision. He noted that because the world is fast-changing, students should be trained to be more innovative, so that they can think more independently and critically to be able to relate class knowledge and their situations. Below are the excerpts;
The institution has undergone several changes, but the name KIM remains. What does change of name to KIM University mean and why the change?
We did not just make a change of name from Kigali Institute of Management to KIM University, but this marks a deliberate effort in rebranding and in redirecting ourselves as an institution of higher learning offering the same education products and services in a much more focused and more strategic manner. So KIM University encapsulates our strategic intent, which is to provide knowledge suffused with the skills set and required competencies that the market requires.
And our programmes are deliberately market responsive and inspire creativity and a sense of self-worth in our students so that they are motivated to attain their dream in life.
So the word 'KIM' is strategic, where 'K' does not just point to the body of Knowledge and Information we provide, but what that knowledge is meant to do, that is, to lead to the sets of competencies and skills that students require. So the university is providing knowledge in various fields, including accounting, finance, marketing, computer science and so on.
The 'I' is about Inspiration. Knowledge is not just accumulation of ideas and not until the ideas and knowledge that students have acquired become an inspirational drive for them to think independently and creatively to achieve what they intend to become in life.
So we intend to inspire in our students a sense of creativity and self-worth because they do not come to get knowledge only, but to also discover themselves, and so a sense of self-worth is extremely important because it is only when students achieve that that they will have a sense of self-drive to become more innovative.
At KIM, we want our students to be the third pillar of the Rwanda's transformational efforts. The context within which we provide education enables our students not only to acquire knowledge but also to apply that knowledge in the real life. This is because of our deliberate efforts to integrate professional programmes with formal education programmes.
How do you assess the performance of your graduates?
This is very much in line with what we wish to do to improve our quality of education. We have undertaken studies which show where our former students are, but also from time to time, we carry out interviews with employers of our students to find out where there is anything that needs to be done so that what we offer does meet market demand and helps the employers to improve their business practices. We also solicit the views of employers and capture them in the review of our curriculum.
How does your unique approach to training ensure that your graduates become job creators or change makers in institutions they join?
This is again the dream of KIM; we do not just want people who will be looking for a job, but people who will come out as entrepreneurs and change agents. We do it through our pedagogy of teaching. All our modules are designed in such a way that our students have the opportunity to undertake projects and programmes that help them start thinking more critically. We are, for instance, using the problem-based learning approach, where students in teams and individually are placed before a scenario that requires them to offer solutions to a challenge a particular organisation has. That enables them to start thinking critically about how to solve such a problem while keeping the organisation afloat.
The debate on the quality of education in the higher institutions of learning remains a key issue in the country's education sector. Quality education is at the heart of the country's transformation efforts, but this quality does not show at the higher education level. In fact, the Council for Higher Education suspended several universities early this year over quality issues. What is KIM University doing in terms of ensuring quality education?
The issue of quality education is not a problem only in Rwanda. In my experience as an educator, I have witnessed challenges of quality in Africa, Europe and in the United States, so it is a global problem. This challenge is not merely lack of standards; it also refers to the whole purpose of education. There are two dimensions of the quality problem. The first is the problem of conformity to the standards, which are extremely important to ensure that the bare requirements are met. Equally important is the fitness for purpose; does the education being offered with all the standards fit for the purpose? And fitness for purpose simply means the relevance in the context of the market.
We have a tendency of looking at quality purely in terms of adherence to the set standards, but unfortunately, this can take away the focus from the need to consistently orient university education to the changing needs of the society and economy; these are the key challenges.
So we are aware of this challenge and in order to ensure that we are not sidetracked, we have decided to undertake the rigorous ISO certification, we are following the ISO 901/2014 which has the quality benchmark. What is beautiful about this ISO certification is that, it looks at quality in the context of an industry-wide challenge so that for an organisation or an academic institution such as ours to meet quality standards, there is need to have a constant awareness of the transformation that is taking place within the education industry as a whole.
Thanks to this certification, all our processes and procedures, right from students recruitment and lecture delivery to course evaluation and other processes, are all managed following the universal quality assurance standards set by the ISO 9001/2015. This has really helped us ensure that everything we do not only conform to what the Higher Education Council of Rwanda and the Higher Education Council in the East Africa expect, but to the global best practices and standards.
The recent assessment by the Higher Education Council left over 10 private universities affected, some closed while others had departments closed. How was the situation at KIM?
KIM was assessed like any other university in Rwanda. We were subjected to a rigorous standards assessment, and the team looked at all our internal processes. We provided them all the information they needed and KIM was declared fit for the purpose. But like other institutions, we still have a lot to improve in line with quality assurance.
Do you have any unique partnerships with renowned universities, and how are these impacting the education sector in Rwanda?
KIM has undertaken a deliberate strategic effort toward partnership development. We are choosing partners who are helping us leverage our programmes and benchmark against the very best in the world, in fact we have a very clear partnership policy which asserts clear guidelines of who we want to partner with, why we want such a partnership and how this partnership aligns with our mission and vision in the context of the broader vision of Rwanda.
In line with this, over the past year, we have developed a number of unique partnerships. One is with the University of Milan (Italy). This partnership is based on developing a new global MBA product. What is unique about it is that this MBA focuses on training and churning out entrepreneurs. To be admitted for this MBA, someone has to have a business idea that they are implementing or a business idea that can be pitched and judged to be viable.
We also have another global partnership with Catholic University of Ulucia in Spain. With this university we intend to focus our attention on other area of skills gap in hospitality and sports management which are also critical are to the transformation of Rwanda.
We also have partnerships with other universities in the region like Uganda Technology and Management Institute; the former Kenya College of Accountancy University and that partnership is based on harnessing information technology in order to improve our capacity.
We also have partnerships with other several professional bodies. These include, the Kenya Institute of Monetary Studies and Uganda Institute of Bankers, among others.
Right now we are discussing partnership with the University Rwanda and several professional bodies.
We are bent on developing these partnerships with universities in the region and globally because we believe that for KIM University to offer quality education, we must learn from, and leverage our best partners within and without.
What is your biggest strength in terms of contributing to the transformation of higher education in the country?
KIM gets strength in professionalising education. All our programmes have this focus and as I pointed out all our students are given the opportunity to pursue professional programmes alongside formal programmes. We ensure that all programmes have this orientation towards providing the required skills set and professional qualifications to make graduates ready for the market.
Good research is what defines an outstanding university. Where do you stand in this aspect?
At KIM we do not take research merely as production of articles for journals. We look at research as a process to improve what we deliver and how we deliver internally.
Another aspect I want to emphasise is research that informs teaching so that what is delivered is relevant and reflects what is needed out there.
Unfortunately, because of the pressure on academics to publish, often, publications do not inform practices. So, for us at KIM, in order to ensure that what is published is relevant and is not just based on the need by staff to publish and be promoted, we have created research centres that will respond to the actual needs of society.
We also have a journal where we publish articles by our scholars. We help students, especially those who have completed their master's degrees, to publish jointly with members of the staff.
Their publications are meant to demonstrate how practices within the industry where they have carried out research. So we are aware that real research must inform practices but also lead to the transformation of society.
Many universities keep a close relationship with their alumni and mobilise their support in many forms. Do you have an office in charge of the alumni and how active is it?
Yes we do. Our alumni are part of our strategic orientation, we track our alumni and know where they are. We hold workshops where we invite them to discuss affairs of KIM. We have a very robust traceability system that shows where all our students are. From time to time, we engage our alumni wherever they are and we would like to do much more with them.
Briefly tell us about unique courses offered at KIM University
Our unique course is entrepreneurship MBA. The programme will be launched at KIM as soon as the Higher Education Council allows us, hopefully in September.
It is not just unique because it is not offered elsewhere in the country but because the approach is different from any other programme, and this is going to be very unique to KIM.
We have also set up the centre for gender and entrepreneurship and part of the orientation is to ensure that students become more creative when they are here. Through this centre, we also want to link our students with the communities so that they engage in starting up entrepreneurial projects that benefit both parties. We are currently in discussions with an Italian NGO though to set up programmes that will produce quality cheese out in the community and the students will be partners in that project. Partnerships help us get social relevance, and as a university we must engage more with communities because it is critical to the development of institutions of higher learning.
We also plan to create an information resource centre that will serve our students, other universities and the community.
Lastly, as an educationist with years of experience on the global stage, how would you rate Rwanda's education sector and what key areas need to be addressed to move it to the next level?
First of all, one thing I have seen as very positive is that Rwanda has set itself a very clear, well-focused transformational agenda.
The country has shown how a focused leadership can lead to a socio-economic turnaround to a level that is unprecedented. So this is something that is extremely positive and this should serve as a springboard for the education sector in Rwanda.
I also think there is need to change the way we look at education in the region. Education largely is perceived as a sphere where people are given a certificate rather than a sphere where young people develop their minds to become creative and innovative to set themselves to achieve what they want to be in life.
So, while education institutions here in Rwanda as well must emphasise the importance of standards, we should also encourage students to think and think independently.