The Covid-19 crisis has ravaged the country since March, with institutions of higher learning badly affected. However, this has not hindered Mount Kenya University’s (MKU’s) College of Graduate Studies and Research (CGSR) from carrying out its activities.
The college’s three directorates – Graduate Studies, Research and Innovation, and Grants and Development – have registered success during this period.
During the university’s 18th graduation ceremony set for October 9, the college will award over 3,000 students who completed their studies during the Covid-19 period.
“After the Covid-19 outbreak, we moved our operations online,” explains the college’s acting principal, Dr Peter Kirira, saying this enabled the college to function effectively.
MKU established the college last year, bringing the three directorates under one roof to build synergies.
“For example, our postgraduate students can be attached to existing grants where they will receive training and funding for data collection and analysis,” says Dr Kirira.
He adds that a postgraduate student with proprietary work will also be easily assisted to protect their products or services through patents or copyrights.
The Directorate of Graduate Studies developed guidelines on online examinations and they were approved by the University Council.
“The guidelines gave us a formal framework to continue with our postgraduate training with minimum interruption,” says Dr Kirira.
The college was thus able to review students’ proposals with a view to giving them a nod to proceed with data collection.
“Some of the Master’s and PhD students who will graduate next month are beneficiaries of this process,” explains Dr Kirira.
He adds that before the scholars go out to collect data, their proposals are reviewed for ethics by MKU’s Institutional Ethics Review Committee, a NACOSTI accredited team. NACOSTI is the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation.
The university additionally checks the documents for plagiarism before they are presented to NACOSTI, which clears the scholars to go out into the field to collect data.
In these times of Covid-19, postgraduate scholars at MKU have had to defend their theses online. They will then graduate virtually.
The Directorate of Graduate Studies also oversees the DAAD in-country/in-region scholarships for postgraduate students. This programme has placed students in the School of Nursing and School of Public Health, covering intakes from 2019 to 2021.
Currently, the programme has students from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.
The university has just enrolled the second cohort of scholarship recipients for this semester after the first group joined in 2019. Another cohort is expected in September 2020.
In the course of the pandemic, the CGSR has also received short-term scholarships from the African Centre for Career Enhancement and Skills Support (ACCESS) project, which is sponsored by DAAD and BMZ. These scholarships are under the Research and Employability pillar of the five-year ACCESS project, where beneficiaries will conduct short-term research between September and December 2020.
Four post-doctorate and five master’s scholarships have been awarded for this period. In addition, the programme has awarded a PhD scholarship for this year to one candidate to study in Germany.
“These scholarships will go a long way to fast-track academic student progression and contribute to the body of knowledge through research outputs such as publications, innovations, business models and prototypes,” says Dr Samuel Karenga, the Director, Graduate Studies, and Coordinator of the ACCESS Research and employability pillar at MKU.
Research and Innovation
MKU researchers have been busy during the Covid-19 season, winning grants and developing useful innovations. Some research projects at the university specifically targeted tackling some of the challenges posed by the pandemic.
A team received support from the Scottish Funding Council to study the impact of government measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 on health services in Machakos County. They found that there was a drastic reduction in patients attendance in March and April, resulting from measures taken and the fear or stigma associated with Covid-19.
The study, carried out in collaboration with Technical University of Kenya, developed a mobile based application that was used to refer patients attending specialty clinics at Machakos Level 5 Hospital, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, to a level 4 or 3 hospital nearest to their residence.
The app was used to link the physician at the referral facility and specialist at Level 5, thus enabling a joint review of the patient. This was a timely intervention as some patients reported worsening outcomes during the reviews.
“These patients could not honour their medical appointments,” reports Dr Kirira, adding that this worsened their health conditions.
Dr Francis Makokha, the lead researcher and an MKU faculty member, notes that the intervention was timely and appreciated by both patients and doctors.
He adds that patients from far areas reported that they were unable to travel to Level 5 because of increased transport costs and the imposed curfew that limited travel hours. Medical personnel at referral facilities were also happy to participate because they were accorded an opportunity to gain knowledge from specialists at Level 5, on the most current ways of managing chronic conditions.
“We believe that through this intervention, we were able to save lives,” asserts Dr Kirira.
MKU researchers have also received funding from the National Research Fund (NRF). As part of the Precision Medicine for Breast Cancer project funded by Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom, MKU is collaborating with AIC Kijabe Hospital and the Department of Health and Emergency Services of Machakos County to establish cancer registries at Kijabe and Machakos Level 5 hospitals respectively. The project was ongoing during the pandemic.
Recently, MKU and Japan-based Osaka City University jointly won a Ksh450 million grant from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The funds will be channelled towards malaria elimination research in Homa Bay County, and was availed through Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS), which is a Japan government programme that promotes and funds international joint research, mostly in developing countries.
MKU innovators also developed a Covid-19 contact tracing system dubbed, KoviTrace, that can be used to trace close contacts of an infected person within the last 14 days. The team is now upgrading the innovation to an integrated public health surveillance system to accommodate other infectious diseases.
Also in response to the pandemic, they developed a locally assembled ventilator to help Covid-19 infected people in distress to breathe easily.
As part of its research and innovation effort, MKU engages in community outreach. The university, in collaboration with Partners for Care, won the Talloires University Award for Innovative Civic Engagement. The award carried a grant of $20,000 to further the community engagement efforts in both Kilifi and Laikipia County.
MKU received two grants for early career research from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).
The university’s scholars have published more than 100 publications between January and August.
For further information, visit http://cgsr.mku.ac.ke/