Yesterday, Dr. Sung Chul Shin, the President of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) held a public lecture at the University of Nairobi on the “Role of KAIST in the Kenyan Economy”. KAIST is the Korean university which emerged as the successful bidder for the role of education consultant in the Konza Technopolis consortium.

Dr. Sung is the 16th President of KAIST and one of the top scientists in South Korea. He is also the founding president of DGIST university, Fellow Professor of University of Ulsan, a member of Presidential Advisory Council on Science & Technology, the chair of Committee for Future Strategy, PACST, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society(APS). He specializes in the fields of Spintronics and nanomagnetism. Dr.Sung has published over 320 journals, holds 37 patents and supervised over 80 Phd students.

During the lecture, Dr Sung shared that in the 50’s and 60’s South Korea had a Gross Domestic Product per capita (person) of between $67 and $87. This made it to be one of the poorest countries in world. At this point, Kenya’s and South Korea’s economies were at par. However, this changed with the transformation of the country’s economy from an agricultural one to industrialized. This change led to a steady increase in the GDP per capita to the current highs of $29,938 as per 2018 figures.

Dr.Sung attributed the dramatic change in the fortunes of South Korea to three main things. That is visionary leadership, strategic plans made by technocrats and the formation of KAIST. The visionary leaders proposed innovative ideas and they included, Park, Chung Hee (President of Korea Industrial economy), Kim Dae-Joong (President of Korea Democratic Society), Lee, Byung Chul (Chairman of Samsung semiconductor industry) and Chung, Joo-Young (Chairman of Hyundai Automobie industry).

South Korea also made 5 year economic development strategic plan seven times since 1962. These formed the blueprint for the industrialization of the country. These plans included securing of technological knowledge and human capital, acceleration in technology introduction and building infrastructure for promoting science and technology.

Formation of KAIST, South Koreans realized that for the country to industrialize, they needed a capable workforce. However, when Koreans went abroad to study, they rarely came back home to build the country. This informed the formation of the technology university to build home grown talent. KAIST came into being in 1971 and this proved to be a game changer for the country and it led to rapid industrialization. So far, the university has conferred over 63,830 degrees and it is today ranked at number 11 among the world’s most innovative universities. This informs the fact that almost 25% of the workforce at Samsung are KAIST alumni.

The Korean KAIST will partner with the Kenyan one in the following areas; curriculum design ( this will be for the initial 6 departments), equipment and procurement (for education and research purposes), university management (administrative structure), industrial collaboration ( strategic joint R&D), training for faculty, staff and students.

The academic programs to be offered at the university includes Masters and Phds in Mechanical, Electrical, ICT, Chemical and Civil Engineering, agricultural biotechnology among others. It is expected that the university once complete will enable the transformation of Kenya into a middle-income country through the promotion of science, technology and innovation for national economic growth.