Utilise knowledge to transform society, Aga Khan University graduands urged

By Christine Muchira/Release

Graduands at the Aga Khan University’s convocation ceremony in Nairobi were encouraged to use their skills and knowledge to pursue ambitious, far-reaching initiatives that would impact as many lives as possible.

In her speech, Chief Guest Professor Collette Suda, Principal Secretary, State Department for University Education, Ministry of Education, explained that making an extraordinary impact requires one to go beyond one’s professional obligations and day-to-day commitments by tackling the root causes of problems.

Professor Suda used the example of a surgeon who seeks to not only conduct successful operations but who starts to think about what can be done to expand access to surgery.

Encouraging graduates to take on new and more challenging endeavours in their careers, she said: “Simply to practice in an ordinary way, a narrow way, is surely not why you spent all those long hours studying. Rather, it was in order to be able to bring about a change at a higher level – the level of the department, the institution or the system. It was to be a problem solver, an innovator, a leader… It is in this more encompassing approach that the real chance to have an impact lies.”

Professor Suda also urged graduands to seek to make the most of their degrees since access to higher education was still a challenge in the country.

“Although the number of university graduates in Kenya and East Africa has grown remarkably in the last decade, it is still the case that only a fraction of our young people even get the chance to enter university. … And that lends the decisions that you will make and the actions you will take henceforth an importance that goes far beyond your own lives.”

In his welcome address, AKU President Firoz Rasul also urged graduands to apply their education to the most pressing problems of the day.

Graduands did not have to look far to achieve significant change because acute problems such as poverty, hunger, preventable illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, illiteracy and prejudice were ever-present not only in Kenya but across the developing world.

Mr Rasul explained the scale of the challenges facing Kenyan society by referring to the Sustainable Development Goals and Vision 2030 and by describing how partnerships with civil society organizations, government and public-sector institutions can address prominent problems in society.

He added that the Kenya Countdown to 2030 case study a report resulting from a partnership between the AKU, the Ministry of Health and a group of international partners had provided a comprehensive roadmap to protect mothers and children across Kenya from deadly diseases.

“That study provides a roadmap for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for maternal, newborn and child health. We were proud to launch it in the presence of Her Excellency First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, who was our chief guest, and Princess Zahra Aga Khan,” he stated.

Mr Rasul mentioned that AKU’s efforts to improve the health of Kenyans not only involved partnerships to understand how to tackle healthcare challenges but also efforts to develop the relevant medical and nursing education programmes that enabled people to provide quality healthcare services.

“Our Medical College works closely with public universities in curriculum development and standard setting. All our trainees gain experience through clinical exposure at both the Aga Khan University Hospital and public institutions, and many public university students gain experience through electives and rotations at AKU.

“In 2016, we started fellowship training in infectious diseases, and will soon start fellowship training in cardiology. These programmes, which will continue to grow in number, will make it possible for physicians to do advanced training without having to leave the country. As with graduates of our residency programme, we expect those who take advantage of this new training will become leaders in enhancing the quality of health care in Kenya.”

Mr Rasul mentioned that last year, a study of the School of Nursing and Midwifery found that more than half its alumni are working in government facilities. AKU is the first institution to train cancer nursing specialists in East Africa and has extended the impact of this initiative by assisting public sector institutions like Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret to offer a Diploma in Oncology Nursing.

AKU’s Institute for Human Development was also providing training support to community organisations that work with children impacted by HIV/AIDS and would soon implement health and nutrition interventions among children in marginalized communities, he added.

“All this work is in addition to about a million patients cared for in Kenya annually by the University Hospital, the Aga Khan Hospitals in Kisumu and Mombasa, and their 59 health centres.”

In the field of education, Mr Rasul mentioned how AKU’s Institute for Educational Development was working with a number of agencies on a five-year project to increase learning among pre-primary and primary students in marginalised communities across East Africa. The initiative has trained over 8,500 school leaders and educators in Kenya and impacted over one million students, most of whom are in government schools.

Similarly, AKU’s Graduate School of Media and Communications (GSMC) is also building capacity in the profession to foster the media’s ability to provide reliable information and well-informed perspectives to the public and policymakers. To date, GSMC has trained nearly 700 journalists and documentaries produced with the School’s assistance are airing every Wednesday on NTV, in a series called Giving Nature a Voice.

Meanwhile, AKU’s East Africa Institute is engaging with government and private-sector organizations to develop new insights that contribute to the formation of public policy. Referring to the EAI, Mr Rasul stated: “Its research on urban food systems has produced evidence that can be used to promote the availability and diversity of fresh, locally grown foods for city dwellers.”

Mr Rasul emphasised that AKU’s work also relied on partnerships with a variety of public and private institutions.

“I would be remiss if I did not point out that we could not undertake all these initiatives without strong external support. As AKU is a nonprofit university dedicated to high quality, our academic programmes cost us far more to operate than we receive in tuition. This means we must provide substantial subsidies to keep them affordable for students.”

Mr Rasul concluded his speech by reminding graduands of the great satisfaction that comes by undertaking innovative initiatives.

“I speak from my own experience when I say that to work on behalf of a great cause, to seek to do what has never been done, is an experience as thrilling as any you will ever know.

“There is no greater reward than the knowledge that your efforts have deeply and positively impacted the lives of a great many people. The chance to experience that knowledge for yourself is an opportunity indeed – one I urge you not to miss.”

At today’s convocation, 60 graduates were awarded degrees, in nursing, medicine and education.