His Excellency Mr Zhao Yanbo
The University of Makeni celebrated its fourth Convocation with Graduands of the classes of 2013 and 2014, with Guest of honour, his Excellency Mr Zhao Yanbo, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Sierra Leone
Vice Chancellor Prof Fr Joseph Turay gave the following address:
Let me join our pro-chancellor in warmly welcoming you to the University of Makeni. It is good to have you with us and thank you for coming and honouring our invitation.
We thank our chancellor, Board of Trustees and council for their continued support and trust in us to steer the ship of UNIMAK. Most importantly, let me congratulate our Graduands and their families for your achievement, and for your trust and patience repose in us as a young university. This is your day and we are glad to celebrate with you. Our Graduands today are the class of 2014 and 2015, numbering 316, 10 post graduate diplomas, 19 Masters degree, 253 Bachelors degree, 37 diplomas and 1 certificate.
Allow me also to congratulate faculty members and staff for a work well done.
Chancellor Sir, we are met today as the convocation of the university, being the meeting of the whole university, and as such let me report on the last year’s events to you our stakeholders.
THE STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY
Mr Chancellor Sir, the state of the university is good. Of course it could be better but these years have been challenging to us as a nation, including our university.
Over four thousand Sierra Leoneans lost their lives as a result of the Ebola Epidemic. The impact of the Ebola crisis has been devastating. The situation was also exacerbated by the collapse of the iron ore prices and other commodity prices, flooding in some parts of the country coupled with the lingering effects of the global financial crisis. This crisis has had serious consequences for our university and the country as a whole.
We had to dig deep into whatever reserve we had to keep us afloat, especially so when we are a private university in a developing country. But thanks to God and with support from our partners and mutual understanding of our staff, we stayed the course. However, these shocks have increased levels of vulnerability and poverty especially women, youth and children. In fact, growth and post Ebola recovery in our country as read the other day in the budget of our country, is predicated on us getting a resilient zero infection, the resumption of iron ore production and export and a strong Chinese economy; (and so the presence of the Chinese ambassador Mr Zhao Yanbo here, gives us reassurance and hope for the future).
Chancellor Sir, despite all these challenges, a number of recent developments make us feel very good about our university.
TEACHING AND LEARNING
We have refurbished and renovated both the Sylvanus Koroma and Fatima Campuses with furniture and equipment for teaching and learning. Residential facilities have also been constructed and some refurbished to host visiting lecturers and staff. Senate has reviewed and approved our foundation core courses in order to address skills, competencies and knowledge deficit.
We commend the active role of our lectures and staff for their active engagement in providing services ranging from mobilisation, psycho-social and mental health services for those working with Ebola patients and survivors, and training of our public health students in Epidemology and Molecular Biology. Programmes were designed and classes conducted through a network of radios across the country to complement the effort of government in providing primary, secondary, and tertiary level education at that crucial time when schools were closed. We have been able to attract visiting professors and partners in supporting our teaching and learning from Ghana, Cambridge, Rome, Australia ,England , the USA and so on.
We have continued our investment in staff development through external training abroad in Ghana, China, Korea, and Italy. We have hosted so far series of conferences on sustainable business in Sierra Leone and post Ebola recovery, exploring education in the diocese of Makeni ten years after our diocesan synod. Conference or town hall meeting on the new SDG’s, the safe abortion bill to name a few.
Just recently, we hosted a group of 20 students and staff from San Pablo, Madrid who worked with the City Council of Makeni in planning a Sustainable Urban Plan for the city. With support from Hellen Keller foundation and the university of Winneba, Ghana, We have continued our professional special needs education training in visual and hearing impairment.
Since the outbreak of the Ebola Epidemic, we have completed the academic year and we are well into the first semester of another academic year.
RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT
We have also leveraged the expertise around us during the Ebola Epidemic to establish a research laboratory for Infectious diseases for the country. This is in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, funded by Welcome Trust and UNIMAK. Partnerships have been established around research for infectious diseases by establishing a bio-tech platform including the Universities and institutions: Tovergata Rome, Cambridge, Metabiota, Holy Spirit and the government of Sierra Leone. Our laboratory recently carried out genome sequencing of the latest Ebola flare up in the country.
We have continued to attract research grants for various projects including our law clinic, mental health building back better programme, the construction of a new public health building including classrooms and laboratories. Through the support of members of parliament, we got the legal practitioners Act amended making it possible for holders of our degree in law become legal practitioners.
We had a three days retreat in Lungi with all the Academic and Administrative staff designing our strategic plan for the next five years. his strategic plan with our key strategic priorities and objectives will guide the growth and development of the university in years to come.
With the Ebola outbreak, students enrolment dropped down as some decided to wait for the next academic year. Since then, the numbers have quite increased with a registered student population of 1,700 with a female representation of about thirty percent of the total.
At this juncture, I will like to congratulate one of our student Miss Victoria Koroma who came with best result at the Sierra Law School. We would also like to congratulate other students who are promoting the spirit of social entrepreneurship in our country in various innovative and creative ways: recycling waste materials to produce outdoor tiles; laundry services like the Rainbow wash; UNIMAK stop Shop, to name a few. The “I CAN DO IT” Spirit is gradually being embedded in tertiary education.
FINANCIAL AID FOR STUDENTS
We continue to appeal for financial aid from our partners, benefactors and donors support to less privileged students. We continue to appeal for subsidies through the representative of the Minister of Education who is here with us today and members of parliament for all students in public and private institutions.
At this juncture Chancellor Sir, I would like us to observe a minute silence for the dead especially those from our UNIMAK family. In a special way, Prof. Harry Turay who was a member of the university’s council, a visiting professor and a foundation member in the establishment of UNIMAK, and Dr. Vincent Kanu an entrepreneur who was awarded an honorary doctorate from our university.
May their souls rest in perfect peace!
Chancellor Sir, we are not without challenges. There is need to improve on our institutional processes, strengthening our information data management systems, increase our finances, build more laboratories and classrooms to address our deficit in the sciences.
But we take courage in the fact that we are resilient and can leverage opportunities. To quote our president, “we must stand firm, we must not relent, we have defeated Ebola virus, and so we can defeat and conquer any other challenges”.
To you our dear graduands, once more congratulation, continue to turn moments of crisis into opportunities. Do not allow the best in you to be overcome by the worst around you. Continue to be resilient and build partnerships to promote the common good. Above all, allow the love of Christ to urge you all in whatever decisions you make.
Remember the African proverb, “If you want to travel fast, then travel alone; if you want to go far, travel together”.
As you know we are fortunate to have the Chinese Ambassador with us because the Chinese Zodiac tells us that, this is the year of the monkey, the year of vitality, new life and innovation.
Show the best of our country and the best of UNIMAK.
May God bless us all!