About - Programmes

Structure of the MSc. Biostatistics Programme

The Biostatistics programme at Chancellor College was conceptualized in 2008 alongside the Social Statistics programme. Several players took part in the process. Apart from members who are currently on the ground in the Maths Department, others who helped to develop the programme include Dr. Tobias Freeman Chirwa (now Professor at Wits University), Mrs. Esnart Chirwa (now Dr. and works with MRC), Assoc. Prof. Lawrence Kazembe (now at University of Namibia). The programme was developed in collaboration with the Department of Population Studies at Chancellor College. Other experts who helped from other Institutions include Dr. Sarah While (College of Medicine), Vyasaul Nyirongo (MLW), Prof. Samuel Manda (MRC-RSA), Humphreys Misiri (CoM), and Mavuto Mukaka (now Dr.) (MLW). The masters programme is managed by a Secretariat involving Coordinator, Head of Department, Secretary, Messenger and ICT Technician.

The programme started with the Masters training in 2010 with 14 students. This was in realisation of the shortfall of statistical capacity in the region. The masters programme is of two years divided into four semesters. It was conceived that three semesters would be dedicated to coursework, which had 16 modules (13 core, 2 electives, and 1 practical modules), and one semester to writing of dissertation. However, after four years of implementation the curriculum was reviewed in December 2014 and it has since divided the two years equally into coursework and thesis work with a total of 10 modules. Students have to complete and pass both coursework and thesis work to qualify for the masters award. All other assessment rules are as in Chancellor College Assessment Regulations.

Members who participate in the teaching are the ones who help with supervision of students' theses. Thesis examination is done in tandem with Chancellor College Postgraduate (PG) Policy. Each thesis is independently examined by a team of three examiners; external examiner, internal examiner, and internal assessor, with the first two being experts in the field of statistics. Once the thesis has been passed by all the examiners, the student is required to orally defend it before a panel of examiners and assessors. It is the panelists during such viva voce meetings who have the mandate to finally decide whether indeed the candidate’s thesis has to be passed. The panelists attending oral defense to the student’s thesis reserve the right to fail the candidate’s work when it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that the student does not own the work being presented. A student can only graduate when his/her coursework grades have been approved by the Department Assessment Committee, College Postgraduate Committee, and University Senate, and his/her thesis work has been approved by Viva Voce Panelists, College Librarian, College Postgraduate Committee, and University Senate. At any stage the work can be referred back to the candidate.

Structure of the PhD. Biostatistics Programme

The PhD. Biostatistics programme commenced in 2015, its proposal was formally approved by the University Senate in December 2015. The programme is of 3 to 5-year, full time and by research. The aim is to produce a highly trained cadre of individuals who will contribute to knowledge generation in field of biostatistics. Entry is based on possession of a Master’s degree in statistics or related disciplines obtained from accredited institutions of higher learning. Those with first class BSc honours degrees in statistics may also be admitted. 

Students will dedicate their full time to the programme, spending their time on campus at Chancellor College or at a collaborating institution depending on agreements and availability of resources. The students will be required to attend and participate in regular seminars, reading exercises and presentations, offer tutorials to MSc and BSc students, and attend to other scholarly activities as may be arranged by the Programme, Department, Faculty or Postgraduate Office from time to time. All students must participate in regular meetings with supervisors and must submit regular student progress reports to the programme. During the entire period of their studies, students must also devote at least 90 hours of teaching or tutoring undergraduate or MSc students, which is equivalent to offering 3 regular BSc modules.

Each student will be assigned at least two supervisors to work with, one of whom shall be the main supervisor who shall be at Associate Professor or Professor Level.  Students will in the first place, with guidance from the supervisors, write and defend a proposal before an assessment team composed of the supervisors, Programme Coordinator, Faculty PG and Senate representatives, at a seminar attended by faculty members. This must be completed within the first 18 months.

During the first semester of study, students will be required to conduct a guided reading exercise in their field of specialisation. Students will sit for, and must pass examinations on the directed study area before presenting a research proposal for approval. The area of study and type of examination (oral or written) are at the discretion of the supervisors, but must be such area(s) that give the candidate sufficient background to bridge any gaps in order to carry out research in the proposed area.  Upon satisfactory completion of the examinations in their first year of study, students will be required to finalise their PhD proposals in the first semester of the second year of study. Students who fail examinations will be allowed to re-sit once. Subsequent failure will lead to withdrawal from the programme. Students’ doctoral research proposal will be presented to the assessment team (in the presence of faculty members) who will assess the candidate’s potential to proceed into the next phase. Any candidate who fails to produce a pass proposal will be allowed a further six months period to re-work on the proposal, and there will be no further extensions except to withdraw the student.

After acceptance of the proposal, the student will then write the thesis for a minimum 18 months (3 academic semesters) and a maximum of three years (six academic semesters). Consequently,

The first year of study will be dedicated to:

• induction into scholarly issues in the field of biostatistics through guided reading, participation in an advanced seminar series or colloquium and other relevant scholarly exchanges;

• preparing and sitting for guided examinations;

• preparing a PhD research proposal.

The second year of study will involve:

• finalising proposal development and approval by the programme;

• where necessary, getting research ethics approval for the execution of the study;

• further reading and/or writing;

• attending further seminars in the Department and Faculty;

At third year (and up to 5th year where it is not possible to complete in 3 years), students will sequentially:

• complete data collection and analysis of their research findings;

• write up their thesis;

• present preliminary results in advanced seminars and conferences;

• publish at least two referred journal articles and submit a third one for publication;

• submit the completed thesis for examination; and

• defend their thesis.

The programme will conform to the guidelines outlined in the UNIMA PG Policy. Assessment shall be either pass or fail based on oral or written examinations. The pass mark will be 50%. Candidates who have completed and submitted thesis and have satisfied the minimum 90 hours of teaching/tutorial shall be required to defend their thesis before a panel of examiners. The viva voce will comprise 25% and the thesis will account for 75% of the grade.

Award and Multiple Exits

• Candidates who will have published two referred journal articles; submitted a third article for publication; and who will have successfully defended their PhD thesis will be awarded a PhD in Biostatistics, depending on their research area.

• Candidates who will have published at least two referred journal articles and pass the guided examinations, but fail to produce or defend a PhD thesis may be awarded an MPhil.

Support for students and their learning

Students learning will be supported through:

i. Adequate orientation program at the beginning of the programme. Arrangements will be made to ensure that students are oriented on the use of library facilities including Information Technology and e-resources.

ii. Students will be assigned to specific supervisors to assist them with any challenges they may have on academic and social affairs.

iii. Seminars, discussions and supervisory reports will provide an on-going monitoring strategy to students’ performance in academic matters.

Indicators of quality assurance/management

The eligibility, selection procedure, supervision and the research process will follow the guidelines outlined in the UNIMA PG Policy and rules and regulations for Chancellor College. PhD candidates may take taught modules from the taught MSc programmes as deemed fit by the supervisors to strengthen their functional knowledge in their respective research area; however, they will not be examined on such modules.  Moreover, quality assurance will be undertaken through external examining, candidates’ evaluation reports, individual lecturer’s evaluation reports, and periodic curriculum reviews.

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Chancellor College is the largest among the constituent colleges of the University of Malawi. Ever since its establishment, the college has produced graduates who have gone on to become leaders in various sectors of Malawian society.

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