Prof Laban Ayiro

Vice-Chancellor | Daystar University

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

Prof Laban Ayiro: Daystar University is a Christian institution with a population of about 6,000 students with 65% of them being female. Our communication faculty is our flagship school though 7 other schools are competing for that spot in terms of enrollment and presence. The schools of law, nursing, social sciences, and business are among those that are growing rapidly. 

Our ethos is embedded in christ-centredness. We aim to transform the world by producing God-fearing graduates who have a value system that aims for excellence, embraces transformational approaches to any engagement, and above all, servanthood. We are a community of people that are prepared to pick up the broom and not just espouse servanthood. Everything we advocate for, we practice to the biblical letter. 

Our DNA is anchored in character and a very strong spiritual purpose. We are very clear about the intellectual standing of anybody from Daystar. We advocate for our students to have their own observations and construction of knowledge so that they have their own conceptualisation of what the world is all about. Our aspirations are high and almost utopian according to some people. We do not see any harm in aspiring to become and that is what our DNA is all about.

AfricaLive: We spoke with Prof Enase Okonedo, the Vice-chancellor of Pan-Atlantic University in Nigeria, also a Christian-based university. She said that they believe in educating people in freedom and with freedom without compelling their students to worship in a certain way or partake in certain activities. Do you share the same sentiments?

Prof Laban Ayiro: Just by our level of intellectual pursuits, we refuse to be dogmatic. We have about 350 Muslim students in Daystar and we allow freedom of worship. We do expose all our students to pure and progressive Christian values that we subscribe to. I tell my students about the three Abrahamic religions which are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. We are all the descendants of Abraham and we have the same beliefs such as life after death, and a supreme God. That makes us embrace everybody in the spirit of oneness. 

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

Prof Laban Ayiro: For us partnership is central. Every structure in our institution has been built through resource mobilisation that engages partners. We wouldn’t exist without partners in terms of resource mobilisation, collaborations, and partnerships that give us space to appreciate and enhance what humanity is all about. Partnerships have enabled us to provide scholarships to the tune of up to 70 million Kenya shillings annually to needy students. 

We are currently working on building the school of nursing which cannot be built just from tuition fees. Our partners in the US and UK are helping us build a nursing school that will cost about half a billion Kenya shillings. We do not just partner with Christian universities. Currently, there are visiting faculty members from the University of Maryland who will be helping us establish the agriculture department. We have partnerships with the University of Michigan, University of Colorado, North-Western University, and Bethel University on staff exchanges and student exchanges as well. We also have local partnerships with St Pauls University, Nairobi University and we are also working on a joint grant to mitigate the impact of COVID in the area of e-learning together with 5 universities. We have drafted a proposal to the African development bank so that we can get funding for infrastructure to enhance our digital and e-learning plans. 

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 Laban Ayiro: Anytime you talk about university-industry collaborations, its important we begin by addressing the barriers. One of the barriers according to me is the conflict between private and public knowledge. Conflict over intellectual property is rife and we must find ways to avoid and resolve such conflicts. We know that this public knowledge and research is central to university growth and also contributes to the economic pull of any country. 

We are yet to deal with our intellectual property issues which is also the case for many developing countries. There is also the level of infrastructure that industry possesses and won’t allow universities to partake in the same. Couple that with technological transfer inhibitions between universities and companies and we end up in a bad situation. University-industry linkages will therefore require greater collaboration and more open interaction channels. 

We have worked to overcome these barriers as an institution. Our students have been given opportunities to get attachments in large media houses across Kenya and we also have companies coming in to give our students platforms when it comes to ICT. Our institution is blessed to have students who are gifted in ICT. I find it to be more of a psychomotor skill than an intellectual one because some of these students are wizards at their craft. We also do lots of consultancies with bodies like UNDP. At the moment we are engaged in a consultancy drive over the coming general elections in Kenya.  

AfricaLive: You mentioned challenges when it comes to intellectual property. Are you looking at patenting to help solve some of these issues?

Prof Laban Ayiro: This is the thinking right now. We have had two of our students being snapped up by Google because they developed impressive software. These students are working on a patent for that and I’m sure it will help them as they develop in their careers. 

AfricaLive: We had a discussion with Prof. Kobus Malan of Keystone University and he said that a conflict of interest sometimes ensues where industry rejects university sustainable innovations or solutions because they are not profitable enough. How true is this in your context?

Prof Laban Ayiro: It is biblical that God admonishes us not to go in for unfair profits. I think because of the legal structure now in Kenya with regards to patents and innovations things are more secure. If you produce something there are protections to ensure that faculty and students are not exploited. You and I know though that the profit motive is cutthroat. I go into these spaces with a very pragmatic and rational mind. I always anchor my approach on the available legal provisions that can help protect my university and that’s how we protect the products and innovations we produce. 

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

Prof Laban Ayiro: I am a big proponent of internationalisation because God has granted me the opportunity to study in about 5 universities across the world. This has made me appreciate the value of exposure, resources, and the sharing of knowledge. I know that the East African Community and African Union will be stronger in terms of higher education if we traverse across our boundaries and exploit the strengths of Universities beyond our region. 

At the height of COVID, I decided to set up postgraduate research centres. I was handing the platform to my PhD students and I noticed that the audience was growing each session. We were now getting students from Universities across the continent logging in. The audience soon grew to include students from Europe and Asia. 

On a Saturday evening from 4 pm to 6 pm, we would have 900 to 1000 students logging in from about 77 universities across the globe. We were teaching nuggets of research methods and statistics because we know that’s a big gap In Africa. We are only producing about 2% of the research output which is not good enough. When you are not publishing or coming up with innovations as much as other regions in the world, you have to go back to research fundamentals. The fundamentals are that your theory of research methods is weak. This means your students don’t have the expected architecture to explore research and get innovative findings. 

We are being pushed to start an advanced certificate in research methods to fix this problem. This program is not just being facilitated by us, we have got 15 universities involved in this. I have professors from the University of Colorado, Maryland University, University of Pretoria, and other institutions involved. This demonstrated the potential that exists if we come together. It is evidence that internationalisation can work very well in our favor. 

AfricaLive: You mentioned the low research output coming out of Africa. Why is this so? Do we rely too much on Western Universities that they end up setting our agenda?

Prof Laban Ayiro: I don’t think so. I believe we can change this by being open-minded and increasing our budgets towards research. Our counterparts in China and Korea realised this and have now blossomed. African scholars and intellectuals must also step up to be counted. Why would I as an African professor use professor Cresswell’s book to teach research methodology when I am a professor like him? I have been in leadership for a long time, why can’t I produce knowledge on leadership without constantly referring to scholars like Maxwell? 

Some African scholars are beginning to stand up and produce knowledge that will help our continent. I have just published a book on insights into institutional leadership that was to be launched in the presence of His Excellency the President but unfortunately he was out of the country. The cabinet secretary for public service came in his place and we were honored. 

I am following that book up with another one next week on functional research methods. 

The book will be published by reputable publishers because I do not believe in self-publishing. Self-publishing has become cancer because many scholars hide behind it to avoid subjecting themselves to the rigors of peer review. With that attitude, we will never measure up and will never stand up to be counted. As African scholars, we must strive to be reviewed by top publishers and avoid being in the periphery. 

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

Prof Laban Ayiro: Our role in the climate change discussions is huge. Communicating the seriousness and impact of climate change to start with, will make a big difference. I didn’t realise until very late that communication is such a weapon. To excel in any career or endeavor, you must be able to communicate. Universities must stand at the frontier of combating climate change and advancing the sustainability agenda so that we can win public support. We don’t have to do it on the grand scale all the time, we can all play our small part. 

I would invite you to visit our Daystar University main campus which is located on savanna shrubland. When I came in 3 years ago I decided to engage in tree planting and to date, we have planted 15,000 trees. We have all types of indigenous trees as well as palms and flowers. You wouldn’t think that the university is located in a semi-arid area. Planting those trees was not a huge large-scale project but one that took small steps, yet I have gotten to meet the pope who has lauded us for our efforts. The papacy was pleased because it aligns with the pope’s philosophy of Laudato si’, which is love for mother nature. 

This shows that if we come together as Kenyan universities we can create the ideal ecosystem which our immediate communities can observe and emulate. If this is replicated across Africa, we can bring back our forests and make our continent green again. Such initiatives bring us closer to communities and also industries. The Equity Bank of Kenya has agreed to bring us 1,000 new trees for planting and other companies like Kwetu are also making similar pledges. The lesson here is that we can all do our part to advance the sustainability agenda and build a community around the idea. 

AfricaLive: The Kenyan government was one of the first movers on the continent in banning plastic bags. This has had a visibly positive effect on Kenyan streets and the overall landscape. Are you having discussions with the government to ensure more is done to save the environment?

Prof Laban Ayiro: We are drafting a proposal to the Ministry of Environment that will see our university lead a tree-planting drive in all learning institutions in Kenya. We will demarcate all our counties to marshall support from county governments, individuals, NGOs, and development partners. We want to make a deliberate effort as institutions to increase our forest cover. The presidency will also give us support because our president is so receptive to change and amiable.

AfricaLive: What are your primary goals for 2022?

Prof Laban Ayiro: I have asked God to help me achieve my goals and continue with the transformation agenda of the university. I would like to see the nursing school expand and grow. I also want to influence the higher education sector in general and have my say on how universities are funded. A country that takes its eyes off higher education, which is the centre of human resources and economic well-being of a country, will lose in the long run. In Kenya, we are seeing an increasing number of students and ironically reducing budget figures for universities. I want to advocate strongly for our schools so that we can reverse this sorry situation. 

In my time at Daystar, I want to make this institution a model that other universities can look up to. When I arrived, the university had around 3,000 students, that number increased to 5,700 students. It tells you that parents see the changes we are making. I want us to walk in excellence because that way you not only honor God but also inspire human beings. As a religious institution, we treat every bit of work we do as worship and that keeps the motivation.


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