OPINION: Covid resilience; At Egerton University, we have found ways to forge a modified path

    OPINION: Covid resilience; At Egerton University, we have found ways to forge a modified path

    By Prof Rose Mwonya

    The year 2020 has been an eventful year for all of us following the break of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    For those of us in the academic arena, the challenges brought about by the pandemic have also tested our resilience greatly.

    At Egerton University, that we have managed to deliver and administer examinations for our final year students attests to this resilience and I am full of gratitude to the students, faculty, and staff for their hard work, commitment, and devotion to the University.

    The University closed in March in accordance with the government guidelines, with full reopening plans just now getting underway. In addition to the closure and attendant disruption to students’ instructions and plans, the financial impact of the pandemic has been severe.

    Predictably, after years of decreasing government capitation, the additional decrease in income from the pandemic induced university closures finally exposed the precarious financial conditions of Kenyan national universities.

    This forced the universities, including Egerton, to significantly reduce pay for senior staff and faculty. Hopefully this pandemic becomes the catalyst that finally forces all stakeholders to address the issue of university funding and governance to ensure effective education and planning for our leaders of tomorrow.

    In our case, the impact of the pandemic has also been particularly tragic and devastating to the University community: we lost Professor Abdul Faraj, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture; Professor S.T. Kariuki, Co-ordinator of the Botanical Garden; and Professor Samuel Wachanga from the Curriculum and Instruction Department. These were pillars of our community and the consequences of their untimely loss remain unfathomable.

    They were giants in their areas of expertise yet they carried themselves with elegant grace, and always gave unreservedly to the University community. These invaluable members of the Egerton University family will be sorely missed. We celebrate their lives and we wish peace and comfort to their loved ones.

    Amidst the challenges in 2020, the spirit of resilience has remained the anchor to the University. We have found ways to forge a modified path starting with ensuring that our students continue to get the best education.

    Leveraging the pioneering work on distance learning by Professor Ezra Maritim and Professor Fred Keraro, the University has embraced virtual learning beginning with the training of academic staff on e-content development as well as online teaching and assessment methods.

    Under the leadership of Professor Alexander K. Kahi, DVC Academic Affairs, the university has incorporated e-learning as the foundation, migrating academic programmes onto an e-learning platform, effecting online registration and even performing online orientation of first year students.

    Working together with Professor Nzula Kitaka the Director of Graduate School, the academic division has introduced online defense of theses and proposals, ensuring that our graduate students do not fall behind. This by itself is a major milestone and one that we are very proud of.

    A critical milestone on the University’s calendar is the graduation ceremony. Under the leadership of Professor Kahi, the University hosted the first virtual graduation ceremony in the country on July 31, 2020, with the ceremony being graced by both the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Education, Professor Magoha and the Permanent Secretary for University Education, Amb. Simon Nabukwesi, among other dignitaries.

    We have continued the University’s pioneering research and extension agenda ensuring programs such as the World Bank funded Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management (CESAAM), led by Professor Owuor, remained on course. Indeed, during the stakeholders review of donor funded programmes spanning other universities, the entrepreneurial emphasis of CESAAM was singled out for praise.

    I also want to highlight the TAGDev program under the leadership of Professor Nancy Mungai. In addition to the pioneering work of the programme, it has materially contributed to the improvement in student life by renovating students halls of residence.

    Dissemination of research knowledge through conferences is critical and here, again, the University had to be creative. Through the efforts and leadership of Professor Bockline Bebe, Ag. DVC Research and Extension, the university virtually hosted the 13th biennial Research Week and International Conference from November 24th through 26th 2020 with the theme of Innovation, Research and Transformation for Sustainable Development.

    Beyond the academic front, this year also saw the positive revival of the flagship near 3000 acres Ngongogeri Farm together with ARC Hotel and Lord Egerton Castle, which are managed by Egerton University Investment Management Company (EUICO), after years of crippling losses.

    Through the leadership of Professor George Owuor and advisors drawn from the University faculties, a significant milestone has been achieved. The next challenge is to continue the transformation to showcase Egerton University’s expertise in Agri-business.

    As we focus on next year, we must emphasize pandemic safety and perfect COVID-19 mitigation measures in the staff work environment, and students’ learning, living, and recreational spaces within the University. The goal will be to continue implementing planned University projects and programmes cognizant of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Prof Mwonya is the Vice Chancellor, Egerton University