Prof. Jang Gyu Lee (Ph.D) is a South Korean scholar who has plenty of experience in administration and engineering. He has recently been appointed President of Adama Science and Technology University aiming to transform the university to one of the best science and technology universities in the continent. Prof. Jang Gyu Lee talks with Capital’s Groum Abate about his plans to transform the university: Excerpts
Capital: You are here to transform Adama Science and Technology University (ASTU) and you have already submitted a proposal endorsed by the government. What constitutes your plan and what have you done so far?
Prof. Jang Gyu Lee: Let me start with the University and the government: why they brought me here, or why they have decided to ask me to become the President of Adama Science and Technology University. When I first enrolled in a university in 1965 in my country; that was about the time Korea started to develop as a country with mobilization of industries and ensuing economic development. In these times Korea was still one of the poorest countries in the world and, of course, the industries and economy of the country were very primitive and poor. In 1950, Korea was in war with the North Korean government. Ethiopia sent troops to South Korea to fight against the North. The war really devastated the whole country. Even fifteen years after the war, (South) Korea was still one of the poorest countries in the world, but had started showing marked development in its economy and industrialization under the leadership of President Park, who was from the military. Starting from 1961, for eighteen years, Korea remained under his rule. At that particular period, since 1965, the time I joined university, the country started to pick up with industrialization. After years of college studies in Korea and upon completion of graduate studies abroad, I returned back to Seoul National University as faculty and academic staff member.
The university I entered was Seoul National University, one of the poorest universities in the world back then. It was unknown to anybody outside my country. As it turned out, however, worldwide university ranking that was conducted last year put Seoul National University as the 56th best university in the world. You can see that it has managed to become one of the best universities in just 40 years or so.
As I have witnessed the transformation through those 45 years with the university; I was requested by the Ethiopian government to help ASTU become a model tertiary institution in science and technology. I presume the experiences I have acquired in those years in a university that managed to become one of the best after years of hard work is the first reason why I was needed here. And, in order to meet expectations of the people and the Government of Ethiopia, I am here to share all my experiences and provide unreserved support.
Capital: What is the time frame to achieve this goal and how confident are you?
Prof. Jang: I really would like to make ASTU the best higher institution in science and technology in the African continent, hopefully in a short time. I do not intend to promise that all would materialize within my tenure period, which is three to five years, as that is too short to achieve such a far-reaching vision. Nonetheless, at least I would like to build the foundation for the university to spring from. I would say that the bigger picture would be seen most likely in say the next 10 to 15 years. When our university manages to become a known higher learning institution in the continent by then, it will become a world-class university noted for its excellence across the world as well.
Capital: What are you planning to do to achieve that?
Prof. Jang: The label Science and Technology University is by definition a university mainly focused on science and technology. That would mean our university will first strengthen the School of Engineering. This year, we have established a separate school for natural sciences as well. The natural sciences are also an important area that we have to strengthen.
As per the policy of this country, industrialization has been given primacy. To contribute to the realization of the aspired goal, we have to make our graduates competent enough to lead industries, thereby contributing to economic development of the nation. In addition, business administration and economics are also very important. I am going to build up our university first by strengthening engineering, natural sciences and also business administration and economics as well as the other sciences, like agricultural science and medical science. The latter is also an important area that we should strengthen and venture into.
Then, the important question would be ‘what are the areas of an academic and administration functions we want to strengthen?’ I see two important areas in that regard. The first is, we have to improve or upgrade our academic staff members. Right now, we have about 1,000 academic staff members, of which about half of them are still degree holders and a big portion of the other half have only masters degree. We have just a few staff who have a PhD. But eventually, all our academic staff members should hold PhD degrees in order to teach and research in their respective disciplines and expert areas. Hence, the one area that I will really concentrate on is improving and upgrading the staff profile. The other important characteristics of a Science and Technology University, unlike other universities, especially those which have a strong-hold in humanities and social sciences, is the practice-oriented education and teaching. For practical education, we need to have good laboratory facilities for teaching our undergraduate students and for academic staff to be engaged in research. Therefore, it is a must to strengthen our laboratory facilities. Likewise, our laboratory operation is another important challenge that I would like to tackle and hope to resolve.
Capital: Research facilities are not that common here in Ethiopia and getting funding for research purposes is even harder. What are you planning to do so that research becomes common in your university?
Prof. Jang: Right now, the situation of research (one of the pillars of higher institutions) at ASTU is mainly concentrated in the graduate studies level. However, that is still not meeting international standards. The graduate level courses and studies at our university are just at the foundation stage. It will take time to grow.
I have high hopes and foresee that the industries of Ethiopia will grow very fast. My focus is that, as the industries are growing and new industries set up, they will require university graduates with higher degrees so that they can start research and development for their industries. Right now, in many areas we lack research fund. We do not have enough money to provide funds for our academic staff members and graduate students, especially in science and technology areas. Obviously, teaching and conducting research in science and technology disciplines is expensive. For humanities and social sciences, all we need is good brain, black board or white board, books and others like the Internet or teaching resources. We cannot guarantee good education in science and technology as the requirements are quite different because there is a need of equipment and materials to do experiments, which are expensive. So we need research funds and I am going to try hard to bring those research funds from the Government of Ethiopia and also from overseas (foreign aid) as well as from industries.
Right now, there are not that many industries that are willing to provide research funds in Ethiopia. As local industries grow, they have to compete with industries outside Ethiopia, and then they will need good brains and intellectual people, especially engineers who can do research and development that helps boost their production and cost minimization. I will try to work with the industries because there are always big needs there. The first work I have already started, and which I am already doing, is to build a research park in our university. The research park that I am working on will bring in the industries so that they can provide us with skills as well as their practical experiences. This will not necessarily be research and development but the manufacturing industries’ status of how they operate. Of course, the research park will be in our university where our academic staff and graduating students can join.
Eventually, Ethiopia has to come up with homegrown technology and knowledge. If we just rely on foreign technology and sciences, that would not help— we would never be able to compete with those who provide technologies and manpower. Maybe we have to start with technologies from abroad because we do not have the experience. We need to gain experience from other countries: for instance, I was brought here to share my experience.
Ultimately, the country and universities have to be run by Ethiopians. So, I think in that sense and I hope this is a good starting point to develop our own homegrown technology and knowledge. The research park shall, therefore, provide knowledge to our university and our region, and for this nation at large. As I said, I already formed a taskforce and they have visited industries around our locality and these industries have already asked for a relation with and help from the university. The needs are there, so now we are on the stage of moving to the next step. We are going to design the research park so that we can start soon. According to the study of the taskforce, one of the benefits our university would enjoy is that, we are surrounded by many industries which are located in a one hundred kilometer radius. You can see how many new industries have been built lately in just a few years around the area. Our proximity means we can easily build relationships and network with the industries.
Capital: What is your area of specialization?
Prof. Jang: I am an electrical engineer by profession. I specialized in control and instrumentation engineering: that is one area of electrical engineering. There are many disciplines in electrical engineering. Within the control and instrumentation engineering, my specialty is navigation, guidance and control. So, this is a discipline focused in finding out or calculating the exact nature of free flying vehicles, or missiles and airplane, or submarines. Those are flying in three dimensional spaces. Automobiles or ships and also robots, are running in two dimensional spaces. For those vehicles, to guide and control the calculation of the exact thing is very important because, in order to guide a fully running vehicle, whatever it is, one should know the position first, then generally the mission is given to the vehicle. One knows or pursues the target so that we can get signals or communication and the vehicle can follow the predetermined route or pursue the target. So that is my area.
When I studied that field, and also when I first joined the university, technology navigation guidance and control technology was primarily in use for military purposes, like for missiles, satellites or rockets, the submarines and aircrafts, fighter aircrafts and all those kinds of things. But lately, as the technology evolved very much, navigation and guidance and control started to be applied for commercial use. We have so called GPS (Global Positioning System) nowadays, also available here in Ethiopia.
I can use the system to locate myself, where I am. Lately, that discipline navigation guidance and control is used for mobile phones and also cars. We do not have car navigation system in Ethiopia yet, but once we develop a GPS system, it will be possible to take advantage of that.