What a death outside campus says about student welfare

Sunday February 19 2017

The University of Nairobi's Kikuyu campus

The University of Nairobi's Kikuyu campus hostel. Massive expansion in student enrolment and a funding crisis at the universities in recent years has made many students to seek alternative accommodation outside universities. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By OTIENO OTIENO
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Maggy Amimo looked set to have the world at her feet. Bright, confident and ambitious, she lived a busy and vibrant life studying for an education degree at the University of Nairobi and chasing her dream to be a music star. In a recent Facebook post, she declared, “Music is my passion”.

Maggy had especially set herself big goals for 2017, with the planned release of a number of songs she had been recording. Now, 2017 will sadly go down as the year the dream died. Her lifeless body was found in a rented flat outside Kikuyu Campus last Wednesday morning.

We, the Jokasarah family who have observed Maggy’s talent in the performance arts blossom over the years and were some of her biggest fans, have yet to come to terms with the sudden death of the jolly girl we fondly called “our Lupita”.

To try to understand the circumstances of my cousin’s death, I spent the better part of last week shuttling between the university’s mortuary at Chiromo and offices in the company of a couple of close relatives. Suffice to say the matter is under police investigation for now.

But conversations with university officials and student leaders led me beyond the personal tragedy of losing a relative to look at the dangers posed by a collapsing student welfare system at Kenya’s public and private institutions of higher learning.

MASSIVE EXPANSION

At the root of this problem are the massive expansion in student enrolment and a funding crisis at the universities in recent years.

The fact that the institutions have been admitting more and more students without building accommodation facilities has seen a large number of them resort to rental housing in the neighbourhoods close by.

At face value, it makes a lot of business sense to freeze investment in accommodation. But the human cost is agonising if you consider the safety concerns for youth in their late teens and early 20s left to look after themselves in a city neighbourhood, with criminals, drug peddlers and sex pests on the prowl.

Worse, the physical dislocation from the campuses for at least half a day every day effectively cuts off such students from vital university services like security, guidance and counselling, and the protection and care of colleagues — be they roommates, hall-mates, or classmates. A senior security officer at the university told a student leader on the phone that he was not aware of Maggy’s death on Thursday – a day after the body was taken to the mortuary.

The role of the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) in the student welfare woes is a familiar story. The university education financier has recently taken to releasing student loans to first years at least one semester late, condemning them to an upkeep nightmare.

A university official told us of the plight of some needy students resorting to all manner of survival tactics, including taking up work at construction sites.
This is no way to build a country’s future.


Writer is chief sub-editor, Business Daily. jkotieno@ke.nationmedia.com. @otienootieno