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RUFORUM thought piece on COVID-19 pandemic: Emerging challenges

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What are the emerging challenges and issues that face universities in undertaking research in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 Pandemic?

With the sudden closure of campuses across the continent to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, higher education intuitions in Africa are shifting to online learning or distance education programs.

The advantage is it can allow for the students to learn at their convenience since it is needless to attend training centers and universities.

Covid-19 pandemic

RUFORUM Thought Piece on COVID-19 by Dr. Runyararo Jolyn Rukarwa, Manager–Research and Innovation, RUFORUM.

This large shift to online instruction does not need for the face to face interaction between lecturers and students and between students so there is prevention and control over the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

However, this is not the case when it comes to research in most of our universities.

Zoomification does not work in research. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on research around the continent, shuttering laboratories, aborting field projects, and costing scientists months if not years of work. Even as universities contemplate reopening; if and when governmentsease lockdown restrictions—the challenges will be enormous. Most will have to operate with just a few individuals at a time, working in shifts.

All large gatherings, including lab/field research activities, are likely to be prohibited. And there will be stark differences in strategy between fields and sometimes even within the same building.

What are the implications for the RUFORUM Research and Innovation activities?

For our graduate students, in agriculture mainly, closing the campus and encouraging social distancing means putting research projects on hold, moving meetings online, halting data collection and rethinking expectations around project timelines and dissertation defenses because of the lack of human subjects and in-person collaboration. Graduate students still require collaborative environments where we can develop professionally.

  • Many universities will struggle to return to their research work:
    One of the biggest challenges university research faces is how to keep their members
    physically distanced to limit any potential spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Working with other researchers isn’t the only challenge, some scientists also have to figure out how to protect farmers and other stakeholders who are part of their research studies. This is very traumatic for everyone; university staff, students, stakeholders
  • When labs reopens only half of personnel will be allowed to work at any one time. This may imply that it may take longer to complete the research than what was anticipated.
  • Even when research does resume, there’s no guarantee it won’t shut down again, especially if the virus resurges
  • We as RUFORUM have calls running yet some institutions are advising their staff not to start new projects, and not start projects that cannot be stopped again on short notice.”
  • Regardless of the strategies scientists follow to return to research, they’ll take some important lessons away from the lockdown. I do hope that the COVID-19 pandemic experience would prompt reflections on us as a network.

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