PUBLIC and private universities have been opening up campuses across the country, in the process awakening rural towns in Kenya.
From Nairobi to Lodwar, Eldoret and Kakamega, to small villages such as Odera Akango in Yala township, the proliferation of universities has spurred economic activities at a momentum never seen before. Most of them started as satellite campuses less than five years ago. But today, thousands of students fill up lecture halls to quench the thirst of education.
Experts estimate that this new phenomenon is pumping into the national economy an upward of Sh60 billion annually in what is probably the most robust and ambition expansion of education anywhere in the world.
“This is a very good thing and the way for the country to go. This expansion is extremely important and the government should, as it has, support the initiative,” says Dr Geoffrey Anyembe, the director of E-Smart College that collaborates with Maasai Mara University based in Mumias town.
He argues that among many other things, the explosion of universities in rural areas has reduced the cost of manpower training, opened up rural life, and created employment, which he says, are key indicators of economic growth.
“From this short experience I can say without any measure of contradiction that no industry has shown the inclination to spur economic growth like a university,” Dr Anyembe explains.
The opening up of the campuses has come with the demand for infrastructure, personnel and services required to support the institutions. From expansion of physical infrastructure, the demand for rental rooms has grown exponentially. This has in turn led to the value of land rising sharply as universities jostle for space. In Kisii, for example, land has become very expensive.
Currently, there are 68 universities across the country with the public universities enjoying the lion's share of this proliferation with 31 institutions spread out in major towns.
The unprecedented quest to open up campuses has seen universities competing for spaces and students in virtually every hamlet in Kenya. In Kisumu, for instance, Maseno University is competing with Mount Kenya University, University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and Egerton University.
Other universities in the lakeside city are Great Lakes University of Kisumu (GLUK), Uzima University, KCA University and a number of colleges such as Kisumu Polytechnic, Tom Mboya Labour college and the Nairobi Aviation College.
The demand for hostels, rental rooms, eateries and all the necessary social amenities has risen. So has the need for lecturers, religious institutions, bars and shops, all required to facilitate learning and provide extra curricular psychological and emotional needs of learners.
No wonder, Maseno University and University of Nairobi own two of the tallest buildings in the central business district of this lakeside city
Moi University, which was established in 1984, has seen its domineering presence shattered in Eldoret with a blink of the eye. It is now competing with new kids such as University of Eldoret, Kisii University, Mt Kenya University, Laikipia University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), University of Eastern Africa, Baraton, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT) and Maasai Mara University.
In addition, the town has more than 25 colleges and tertiary institutions with Eldoret Polytechnic, Rift Valley Technical Institute and Eldoret Aviation leading the way.
Mombasa has the Technical University of Mombasa, Pwani University, University of Nairobi, Mt Kenya University, JKUAT, Kenya Methodist University and Moi university.
Nakuru has Egerton University, Laikipia University, Mount Kenya, Kabarak university, St Paul's University, JKUAT, UoN, CUEA, Presbyterian University of East Africa, Kenyatta University and Kenya Methodist among others.
University of Nairobi is currently putting up a multi-storey building campus in Kisumu after acquiring the former British Council library. Moi University is putting up the tallest building in the North Rift at Eldoret.
Apart from the main campus in Kesses, Moi University has campuses in Eldoret town, Eldoret West, Kitale, Kericho, Nairobi, Odera Kang'o in Yala township, Mombasa and Alupe in Busia.
MKU is leading the pack among private universities, opening up campuses in towns across the country and centres in Kigali, Uganda and Burundi. It has campuses in Thika (Main), Nairobi, Lodwar, Kisii, Kisumu, Nakuru, Mombasa, Meru and a centre in Nyeri.
Kisii University pulled a first against Moi and University of Eldoret when it set up a campus in Marakwet West. The campus at Chebara is the first university in Elgeyo Marakwet county.
Local leaders led by Senator Kipchumba Murkomen have welcomed the university campus, saying it brings university education closer to residents.
Murkomen challenged the university to design innovative academic programmes that are responsive to the challenges of the local people and support governance in the devolved unit.
“We want you to design new programmes that will help county government officials to get new knowledge on devolution and accountability,” he said.
Kisii university vice chancellor John Akama said the campus will start offering school-based courses to its first 80 students immediately. “By establishing this university in Marakwet, we are significantly reducing the cost of education to residents of this area. There will be no need for students to travel to distant places in search of university education,” Akama said.
He said the new campus will promote cultural diversity in the region.
Area MP William Kisang said the new campus will improve the area’s socio-economic development and pleaded with those with capital to invest in accommodation facilities to house students and lecturers at the new campus.
As the universities set up campuses, so do banks, food courts, hotels and other businesses which attract intense human activity and spurring economic growth.
This has made the rental rates of hostels rise sharply with the high demand. Without the services of a top end supermarket chain, Kakamega town has seen the establishment of Nakumatt and Tuskys to address the consumption needs of the huge student population. In Kisumu, students pay at least Sh15,000 per semester for hostels. While in Nakuru county, the value of land has more than tripled in the last three years at Mbaruk, the location where Laikipia University is constructing a campus. From as low as Sh250,000 three years ago, prices for a 50x100 plot range between Sh800,000 to Sh1.5 million.
“Apart from the economic gains, the universities are opening up rural villages to the international world. Some of these institutions have linkages with some of the best universities in the world and the importance of this in terms of tourist attraction cannot be gainsaid,” Dr Anyembe says.