Establishing an AI and Data Science Ecosystem: an Academic Institution's Perspective

By Richard Kimera, Dr. Fred Kaggwa and Rogers Mwavu

Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Organizing Team: DASH in Africa

Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) was established in 1989 by an Act of Parliament as the second public university in Uganda. MUST is renowned as a Centre of Excellence in Uganda and the region with its niche in community engagement. MUST operates two campuses within Mbarara municipality in southwestern Uganda, 286 kilometers away from the capitol city Kampala. MUST’s two campuses are the Kihumuro main campus (7 kms on the Mbarara –Bushenyi highway) and the Mbarara campus.

MUST provides quality and relevant education at a national and international level with particular emphasis on science and technology and its application to community development. This focus is evidenced by the University’s training in science and technology, research and innovations through research groups and innovation hubs; as well as education and engagement through community-based training and research services.

In the Faculty of Medicine (FoM), students are placed in remote areas not only to practice medicine but also to identify community health problems and devise solutions to them. Most of these are areas are not fully mapped; our cohort helps the government access proper statistics for fast resource distribution and continued monitoring. We study population groups (clusters), disease outbreaks, feeding habits and data comparisons to identify changes in parameters. The Faculty of Computing and Informatics (FCI) takes a similar approach through its industrial training placement, where students gain experience applying technology in a local setting. Through the software incubations and innovations unit, they are further inspired to become entrepreneurs that build products to fit local markets. These two Faculties are boosted by the presence of the Mbarara regional referral hospital that houses the medical school, making it easy to carry out research.

FoM and FCI have participated annually in the Health Informatics course at MIT where students and staff have continued to engage in solving community problems using technology and innovations with the help of both international and local experts. However it is still a challenge to determine how data collected through new solutions and approaches to healthy community development can be analyzed and made useful. The main setback has traditionally been a lack of experts in the area of AI and data science (ADS) and poor data collection and storage methods.

As a training and research institution, we aim to establish an AI and Data Science Ecosystem (ADSE) whose model focuses on improvement using an academic perspective. ADSE would be important in strengthening the initiation and establishment of AI and Data Science-related education programs, creating a conducive environment for sharing experiences, empowering research and innovations, as well as fostering both local and international partnerships 

The AI and Data Science Ecosystem fits well within the mandate of MUST as a university of science and technology. And with MUST’s existing resources and the blessing of local government, this project has a foundation for success.

ADSE Model

The proposed ecosystem envisions academic institutions building programs through research teams and establishment of well-structured data centers. Partnerships with government, private organizations, development partners, and industry could produce funding, job creation, research collaborations, specialized consultancies, and mentorships. In the end the built projects could be implemented and results shared in summits and publications. It would also foster a generation of data science experts.

For us, DASH in Africa is very timely and exciting since it brings all stakeholders in this proposed ecosystem in one place, bringing ADSE closer to realization. With such an ecosystem, it is possible these AI and data science solutions will transform Africa’s health environment.