Prof Kobus Malan

CEO | Keystone University

AfricaLive: How would you define the identity of Keystone University? What makes up your DNA?

Prof Kobus Malan: Keystone is a management company that manages two universities in Zambia. One is called the University of Africa, and the other one is the Africa Research University. The two institutions came under our management when the pandemic struck. The pandemic forced a lot of adjustments to be made.

The Africa Research University has been graded by the Higher Education Authority as one of the premium universities in Zambia. There’s only a handful that has been granted the privilege of bestowing doctorates to students and The Africa Research University is one of them. The university focuses on quality leadership education for Zambia and the continent at large.

The University of Africa, on the other hand, is a bit older having been established in 2008. It offers business learning and is accessible to more students compared to its sister institution. It has been graded up to the Masters’s degree level and is a very decent school in the heart of Zambia.

AfricaLive: What does the word partnership mean to Keystone University?

Prof Kobus Malan: We believe that unless you partner, you will be buried. An institution such as ours cannot work on its own. The world has changed and it is possible to go about without forging some partnerships. We have a number of partnerships that we have developed and some that we are still developing. We have universities that we collaborate with in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria among others. These are academic-based partnerships where we work together to promote partnerships.

We have also built research partnerships. Through our director of research Dr. Norman Kachamba, we have developed a concept called “Eco research”.  The concept is linked to our PhD programs where we tell our doctorate student researchers that they must focus their research on real-world issues. This will make the research easily applicable in society and not the type of research that just stays on the shelf.

We are pleased to be partnering with a global research body known as GARA. This is a body that seeks to enhance global collaborations among institutions. We are proud to be a member of GARA and I’m sure that will improve our standing as an institution. We are also pleased to have a partnership with the government of Zambia on local industrial cooperation. The agenda is to see where the government has needs that can be solved by our research students. We also engage with the government through the Higher Education Authority which is the regulatory body for universities in Zambia. We partner with them on matters such as quality control and also promoting the Zambian academic qualification.

AfricaLive: Zambia has seen successes when it comes to food production and the new administration has a strong focus on that. How are institutions such as yours involved in this and what do you seek to do?

Prof Kobus Malan: We are definitely involved in our country’s food production wins. In fact, we have had two students who completed their agriculture research projects and one of them has played a key role in agricultural development in rural areas Dr Oliver Buloya. The other student is working on a similar rural food production project that seeks to empower women. This is important because there are more women small subsistence farmers than men. She is conducting research that will help these women farm more effectively to increase their productivity and earnings. So yes, we are actively involved in the increasing food output in Zambia.

AfricaLive: There is often a disconnect between the output of higher education institutions and the needs of industry. How do you work with the private sector to form the partnerships required to advance your nation?

Prof Kobus Malan: That observation is fair because there is often a gap between what industries want and what higher education institutions produce. The root of that is historical in the sense that universities in the past adopted academic independence where each of them wanted to do their own thing. Universities did not regularly engage with the industry on such issues and the consequences have been there for all to see.

It’s been a bigger problem in Africa where our institutions haven’t done enough to engage widely with others. I can’t put all the blame on universities though, because there has been a lack of effort from the industry as well. The biggest problem universities face when it comes to bridging this gap is funding. We are self-funded ourselves, only receiving money from some of our investors. The more sustainable way to solve the funding as well as other challenges in my opinion is forming tight-knit relationships with the industry. Relationships that are developed enough for companies to call us in and involve us in their projects in one way or another.

Another challenge we have in bridging the disconnect between universities and industry is conflicts of interest. If we are honest, there is a cutthroat pursuit of profit in the industry. This creates conflict when we produce solutions for society that are not deemed profitable enough by some in the industry. This conflict must be settled by each of us making concessions so that the gap narrows. With that said, I am excited by the project we are currently doing with some members of the industry in South Africa.

The Africa Research University which falls under the Keystone umbrella is developing a leadership programme with the backing of some South African and Canadian investors. We find this project critical because we have a leadership integrity problem in Africa. A lot of our leaders behave like monarchs when they get into office, they don’t understand that their job is to serve. They expect to be served instead, which is a big problem in this day and age. We use the money that’s coming in to develop democratic leadership skills which we hope will count for something in the country’s political arena in years to come.

We also want to add value to the degrees we offer. You look around at some of the certifications that are being issued and you wonder, “what is the value of a BBA degree?” For that course to have value, it needs to be tweaked to reflect what the industry wants. We can increase the value of these certifications if we bridge the gap with the industry because we will now be producing exactly what the industry wants.

We must also bridge the conflict of interest that exists when it comes to us producing products and innovations that some in the industry deem not profitable. Sometimes we come up with ICT programmes that suit certain banking needs, but such programmes don’t get funding or tech support unless we have a sizable amount of students going for them.

AfricaLive: What does internationalisation mean to you? Where do you see opportunities for partnership with international academics and universities?

Prof Kobus Malan: It is critical for us to develop partnerships internally and even outside Africa. Developed countries are like that for a reason and it all can’t be attributed to colonisation. Those countries are ahead because they have developed sophisticated systems, products, and ways of thinking. We are yet to catch up as Africans and this is why we are still behind. I advocate for us to partner with people from those countries as often as possible so that we can pick up the pace and catch up quickly.

We have created two international connections which are GARA as I mentioned before and a Canadian partner who I cannot disclose at the moment. All I can reveal about them is that they put their money where their mouth is because they have invested in three African universities to date.

Thanks to our embrace of internationalisation, we have now developed a mobile phone app for the institution. The application helps us reach students from far and wide which advances our e-learning agenda. Students can now access our school from anywhere in the world and that is a big win. Such developments also push us to ensure our programmes are up to date and top quality.

Internationalisation will also help us to overcome our inferiority complex because of increased exposure. It amazes me that we have Africans who believe we can’t match the standards in Europe and America when I work and interact with brilliant Africans every day. More exposure will help us see that people from the places we revere are not that special and we can quickly be up to standard. I have seen African inventions that are brilliant which makes me believe that we are just as capable as anyone.

AfricaLive: What role can your university and the higher education sector play in combating climate change and advancing the sustainability agenda?

Prof Kobus Malan: We acknowledge the need for us to be crusaders for the environment. This is why we have developed a programme known as ‘Environmental Health’ at Bachelor’s level. We are working with one of our alumni to upgrade the bachelor’s programme to a doctorate one. I am worried because a lot of people in Africa think the climate change phenomena will not catch up with us. On the contrary, it will catch up with us very fast whether we are industrialised or not.

One of my close friends is a lady called Sarah Ferguson. She is a world-renowned swimmer looking to swim from Durban to Capetown within 10 weeks. Sarah is doing this to champion the cause against the pollution of the ocean by plastics. In Zambia, we do not see the full effect of plastic pollution in the oceans, but if you go to SouthAfrica, it becomes very clear. I live on the coast of Natal, and from there you can see waves of plastic garbage in the sea. So sustainability is an issue we should take seriously because it will affect us as well.

AfricaLive: What are your primary goals for 2022?

Prof Kobus Malan: Our biggest single objective this year is to develop our electronic learning agenda. I mentioned the cell phone application that will help us take learning online and we will continue to work on that. We have challenges when it comes to tablets and computers for all, this is why we chose cell phones as the target medium. We are running test runs already and things look good. Soon, we will make cell phone learning available to all of our students so that they can have access even when taking the bus.

We have financial goals as well after coming out of a disruptive last two years with the pandemic. Our financial goals align with our aim of advancing into the digital learning space. This will require a stable financial base so that we can run a smooth operation. This year, the Higher Education Authority is reviewing university classifications which will help get rid of uncertainty. With The Africa Research University, we are now offering doctorate degrees which will help us advance our eco-research plan.

This will elevate us and help incentivise more high-quality research and publications. We have students today doing very high-quality research now on topics like HIV-AIDs, sustainability, and software development. Our android-app is getting massive positive feedback from students because they appreciate how accessible education is.


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