The Alliance for African Partnership host 6-part dialogue to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in Universities

By Taigu Muchiri

The Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) has organized a series of dialogues that will run from April 29 – July 8, 2020 to discuss how to deal with and find solutions to the challenges in higher education since the onset of COVID-19. The speakers will include Vice Chancellors, researchers and other relevant staff at AAP consortium universities, as well as representatives of the public and private sector, funding partners, think tanks, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), among others. The series will be moderated by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, who is also an AAP Advisory Board member.

The objectives of the proposed dialogue series are to: strengthen collaboration of AAP consortium work during the crisis; catalyze dialogue and share research and innovative thinking around key issues in the age of COVID-19; increase awareness of African universities as knowledge brokers and leaders on the continent, ensure that investment in universities post COVID-19 is on the agenda of African governments, the private sector, and donors; establish a small group within the AAP consortium to lead follow up actions; and identify funding opportunities that will support identified activities.

The first installment of the series titled ‘COVID-19 Pandemic: Responses and lessons learned from African universities’ was held on April 29, and the panelists included Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, Vice Chancellor, Makerere University, Prof. Ibrahima Thioub, Rector, Cheik Anta Diop University, Prof. Rose Mwonya, Vice Chancellor, Egerton University, Prof. David Norris, Vice Chancellor, University of Botswana. The discussion provided overview of how several universities have responded to the pandemic in terms of teaching and research, including their contributions at the societal level, challenges presented by the pandemic and provide solutions as the world continues to suffer from devastating effects of the pandemic.

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza noted that the pandemic had revealed glaring inequalities within institutions in terms of capabilities to handle this crisis. “Most universities were not prepared in terms of infrastructural capacity to conduct online and teaching, access to gadgets and internet for students and faculty is still a challenge for most learning institutions in Africa,” he said. He added that the crisis has also presented challenges of internalization, international collaborations and the flow of international students citing that international students were the most affected by the pandemic because they had to move back home at a moment’s notice.

Prof. Nawangwe from Makere University admitted that they were not able to transition online apart from the few courses that are designed as online courses. But the university supporting hospitals by providing medical students and supervisors to assist manage and fight the spread of the virus in Uganda. The university was able to continue with research activities such as development of a rapid diagnostic test kit for COVID-19, validation of non-WHO accredited tests, develop and test low cost ventilators, and the development of the EpITent which will be used as an isolation unit and a combined hospital for COVID-19 patients.

In Senegal, Prof. Ibrahima Thioub mentioned one intervention that has been identified is the development of robots that will be used to deliver food to people infected with the virus. At the University level, the medical and social welfare institute that was responsible for the health and wellbeing at the university and their role was to communicate measures put in place by the government to stem the spread of COVID-19 on campus. They also mobilized their social anthropologists to assist the government to enhance communication on COVID-19 in the country. The School Science and Technology produces 6, 000 liters of alcohol based gel daily for distribution to the community.

Prof. Rose Mwonya stated that the Department of Chemistry at Egerton University embarked on producing hand sanitizers and face masks through the Department of clothing and textiles. The university will be collaborating with the County Government of Nakuru to ensure that they reach out to the community to ensure that they have access to hand sanitizers and face masks.

The University of Botswana is working closely with telecommunications companies to provide students with laptops and finalizing modalities of providing zero rated tariffs for students in order for them to access online classes. In addition, the university is providing clinical care specialists, specialized nurses, pharmacists, critical care specialists, emergency physicians through the department of medicine and health sciences to provide much needed care to patients in the teaching hospital. It is working with the Ministry of Health to provide psychosocial care for all who need these services through psychologists, social workers. In addition, they have partnered with the Ministry of Health to develop a dashboard to monitor and manage the spread of the virus using 3 software tools. The university is also producing face shields, sanitizers, masks, and a prototype ventilator to help alleviate the burden of the pandemic in the country. The university is also focusing on research areas by exploring options for COVID-19 testing in order to increase testing capacity to 3, 000 tests per day.

Other dialogues will discuss the economic, food security and livelihoods impact of COVID-19 in Africa and will be held on May 27; on June 10, the dialogue will highlight potential challenges of student recruitment in the age of COVID-19; on June 24, the panelists will explore the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on university faculty and students; and the final dialogue will be held on July 8, that will show the impact of COVID-19 in Africa by exploring the opportunities for partnership and engagement.

AAP seeks to promote sustainable, effective, and equitable long-term partnerships among African institutions, Michigan State University, and other international collaborators. It strives to build networks across all sectors (universities, NGOs, government, and private sector) to engage with development challenges that fall within six thematic areas which include agri-food systems, water, energy, and the environment, culture, youth empowerment, education, health and nutrition. AAP is a consortium of 11 universities – Michigan State University (MSU) in the United States; Egerton University in Kenya; Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi; Makerere University in Uganda; Université des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines de Bamako in Mali; United States International University-Africa in Kenya; Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal; University of Botswana; University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

The media partner for the dialogue series is University World News (UWN) to increase awareness of the event and engage a wider audience to participate.

Additional reporting by University World News

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