Grassroots leaders in Mt. Kenya region are worried that the proposed closure and merger of universities will lead to the economic collapse of towns that have grown recently on the back of hosting the learning institutions, a move that will lead to significant loss of income, jobs and investments.
Big and small towns like Chuka inTharaka Nithi, Karatina in Nyeri, Kutus in Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyeri, Meru, Juja and Ruiru in Kiambu are among those staring at a significant loss of income and employment should universities they host be closed or merged in a way that diminishes student population.
Key loses are expected from unoccupied rented hostels, which already require millions of shillings to construct. Usually, local communities have been providing hostel services to students to enable the universities to concentrate on their core function of teaching and research.
Local suppliers of food, various services and other products are also expected to suffer significant losses, with some of the businesses running solely on support of these institutions of higher learning.
Equally facing a major shock is the local retail economy which has become vibrant because of the high number of students.
For instance, the formerly dusty town of Chuka, the Chuka University has a student population of about 18,000 and growing providing a large pool of retail buyers to the local consumer economy.
Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia says sobriety is needed on this matter which he terms as “sensitive”.
“If for instance you were to close Chuka University, that would be a death knell for that area,” said the governor in an interview. “We need to have a very sober and strategic mind to make sure that we can improve on what we have instead of appearing to be destructive. Going with a hammer is not necessarily the solution,” he said.
The governor suggested that the universities should stay and instead, stakeholders should seek solutions to make them sustainable and offer quality education.
“We need to see how we can still keep those academic institutions. We should be careful not to engage in something like the structural adjustment programmes as we did before and killed our entire economy.”
Structural adjustment programmes popularly known as SAPs were economic reforms of early 1990s suggested by the World Bank and the IMF for Third World countries but which instead resulted in massive poverty and joblessness, the opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.
“This is a tricky issue and we need to be very careful so that we do not jump and do very radical reforms that will injure the character and the quality of the universities.
The fact that we had progressed so much, what we need to ask ourselves is whether we are still within the international standards that we would want to adhere to. Is reducing universities what creates the standards or is it addressing the standards themselves?” said the governor.
In Tharaka-Nithi County, Mugwe MCA Denis Mutwiri said Chuka University had led to the development of Ndagani market and in the case of closure or reduction of student population, businesses shall be seriously affected.
“Over eighty percent of 18,000 Chuka university population stay in private hostels within Ndagani market and in the neighboring Chuka town and reducing the population would deal a big blow to the investors,” said Mutwiri.
He suggested that the ministry can limit the establishment of new campuses and empower the existing ones. He said apart from the business perspective, Chuka University had attracted other developments in the region for infrastructure improvements like roads and schools.
John Mutembei, an official in Ndagani Hostel Owners Association asked the minister to use other measures in improving learning noting that they had established permanent businesses and that in case of closure of the university, they would encounter big loss.
He added that there was a need for the establishment of more universities contrary to the ministers take to promote learning.
“With universities in the villages, children from poor families can access education from their homes without the expense of renting houses,” said Mutembei.
In Kirinyaga, Kangai MCA John Gitari says every county should have its own university to ensure university education is available at the grassroots. Look at Kutus town. The university is developed in all sectors. If you close it, the town will collapse, jobs will be lost. Instead, we should look to improve the institution to be self-sustaining,” he said.
Mwea MP Wachira Kavinga said closing down the university will be tantamount to killing the economy of Kirinyaga County. He said local leaders will fight it out with the national government to ensure the university is not closed.
“The university is a major consumer of our rice and other horticulture produce thus creating employment for the farmers. It is also a direct employer to the locals.
A university is an economic engine of an area, a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Wachira said.
In Embu, Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industries (KNCCI) Embu Chapter chairman John Mugo Mate said traders who have invested in hostels within Embu town benefit a lot in the town that hosts the University of Embu and four other campuses for other universities saying they would record huge losses if this happens.
Other than the University of Embu, Embu town hosts Kenyatta University, Chuka University and Management University of Africa.
“Many hostels will go without occupants. Owners will be forced to reconstruct the houses to fit other businesses which is also wastage of money.”
The KNCCI chairman said, other than hitting hard the economy of the area, this move would also interfere with dreams of very many young people who would be denied chances to join universities.
He said the high number of universities and colleges within the country gives chances for many people to acquire education.
Earlier, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua has advised against the proposal to shut down or merge some universities instead advising that existing universities be strengthened, and many other campuses opened to bridge the growing demand for higher education in the country.
“As Kenya grows we need more universities not less,” Mutua said.
“In every village, it is now clear that it is through education that children from extremely poor backgrounds have become top notch professionals and industry captains turning around the fortunes of their families and communities around them,” he said.
“I appreciate the challenges facing higher education funding and quality standards but starting to close down universities located in counties and which we fought hard to get established, is not acceptable to us leaders and to Wananchi.”
In Nakuru, Kabazi MCA Dr Peter Mbae, however supported the move saying the merger of universities and campuses and the review of academic courses is a move in the right direction in sanitizing education in the country.
The PhD holder in Peace and Reconciliation from the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology says many universities are a product of exam irregularities in the country.
He said polytechnics and constituent colleges rose to universities to accommodate the high number of ‘qualified’ students, majority products of exam cheats.
“Yes, the merger and closure will have a negative impact on local economies but we should not overlook the quality of education for the purported economic growth” said Dr Mbae.
He said the earlier the government corrects the mistake the better.
“Regions hosting universities should develop because of other sustainable measures around them and not education fraud. Many universities are overburdening the government and it’s time they come up with measures for self-sustainability,” he said.
Source : Standard Media