Chasing the American degree: Why we turned down local universities

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What you need to know:

  • The unemployment rates in the country don't make things better either. MyNetwork has in the past featured a number of intelligent, first class graduates who were yet find employment.
  • Hundreds of thousands of young people are unemployed despite having impressive academic qualifications. 
  • It is for these reasons that many students dream of going abroad where they are guaranteed of getting top class education and facilities.

Higher education in Kenya has been faulted by many and for various reasons. Some say that the skills students acquire are often mismatched with the reality of the modern workplace, while others opine that the course work emphasises too much on theory, while neglecting practical work.

The unemployment rates in the country dont make things better either. MyNetwork has in the past featured a number of intelligent, first class graduates who were yet find employment. Hundreds of thousands of young people are unemployed despite having impressive academic qualifications. 

It is for these reasons that many students dream of going abroad where they are guaranteed of getting top class education and facilities. This week, we speak to five such Kenyans who, after completing their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) last year, declined invites by the KUCCPS to study in Kenyan universities.

Photo credit: Pool

Victoria Anyango Ochieng, 18
Davidson College, US

I have always believed in the power of education. I grew up in Mathare slums where life is tough. From a young age, I knew that only excellence in academics would change the course of my life.

I am a beneficiary of various non-governmental organisations such as Canada Mathare Education Trust, which paid for my high school education.

All my life, I dreamed of studying abroad, then returning home to empower my community in Mathare. Even though that vision seemed blurry, I believed that it would someday come true. My desire was to get world class education so that my future would be brighter.

Last year, after completing my high school education, I was greatly disturbed when I realised I had been called to take a course in Physiotherapy at Moi University by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS).

I planned to switch to another programme once I got to the university. However, this never come to be. A friend shared a link to the Kenya Scholars Access Programme (KENSAP) website just as I was preparing to report to Moi University. I tried my luck and applied. And early this year, I was chosen among 20 other students to undergo 16 weeks of residential training.

I am now looking forward to joining Davidson college in North Carolina to take a double major in biology and gender.  am planning to fully utilise this opportunity, and to reach my full potential. I can’t wait to sample the various cultures and interact with people from diverse backgrounds. I also can’t wait to see what my course work entails.

I have heard that Kenyan universities hardly have programmes where students can gain experience in their field while still studying. I plan to do just that at Davidson College so that I can gain an edge in my career. 

There is no way I will stay abroad for the rest of my life. I think that would make me a traitor. I believe this opportunity was bestowed upon me so that in future I can empower other young people in Mathare.

Photo credit: Pool

Mohammed Khalif Noor, 20
Middlebury college, USA

I grew up in Mandera and as you can imagine,  life was not rosy. I come from a humble family. In fact, one of my uncles had to take a loan to enable me join Mandera Secondary School.
There, I was sponsored by the school principal and maintained grade A throughout my period there. When I was in Form Three, during the pandemic, I nearly gave up because our teachers were evacuated and we had to learn by ourselves.

I performed exceptionally well, and was the only student to get Grade A- that year in Mandera.
I cant wait to start my medicine studies in the US later this year.  That will be a dream come true. I have always wanted to be a neurosurgeon, although I almost failed to achieve that goal because I was called to study actuarial science at Egerton University.

In Middlebury college, right from first year, I will have access to numerous internship and research opportunities. That is different from here in Kenya where one gets to do internship only after completing a minimum of three years of study.

I expect to gain the necessary skills and knowledge in the field of medicine, while broadening my network.

My utmost goal is to become licensed as a doctor to practice medicine. I hope to return to Kenya after my studies and develop the field of medicine.

Photo credit: Pool

Haime Nyaboke Gesare, 18
University of Pennsylvania

I fulfilled my dream of studying abroad thanks to an exchange programme between my school, Alliance Girls, and a high school in Denmark called Oure-Kostgymnasium.

After attaining an A in last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), I received an invite to study medicine at the University of Nairobi. This was a dream come true since I had always wanted to be an oncologist while growing up. But, by the time I received the calling letter, my interest had shifted to software engineering. I turned down the invite, but my family was not happy with that decision. 

However, I stood my ground. I didn’t want to spend six years in school then spend the rest of my life doing something I wasn’t passionate about. The view that certain courses are more prestigious than others needs to end in this country.

I learnt about study opportunities abroad when I was in high school, through our college advisor. I applied and took part in a residential fellowship offered by KENSAP, which was vital in preparing me on what to expect while studying in the US. 

Fortunately, I got accepted at the University of Pennsylvania, and I am expected there in September. I believe studying in the US will open more doors for me and enable me achieve much more, and that is why I decided not to join UoN.  The American education system is more flexible and I like the fact that they encourage co-curricular activities.

I think the Kenyan system is flawed. At the moment, there are courses that have become obsolete, yet there are many students still taking them. The syllabus is also quite narrow, as opposed to universities abroad where a student can take multiple courses at the same time and acquire a broader range of skills.

For instance, I will be taking two degree programmes, one in international studies, and another in international business. I am looking forward to interacting with people from different backgrounds, learning the different cultures, establishing networks, and taking internships. If all goes well, I will also take my postgraduate studies abroad.

After gaining a wealth of experience in University of Penn, I will be sure to come back and empower our nation despite the high unemployment rate.

Photo credit: Pool

Nasra Adan Wario, 19
Harvard University

I am looking forward to joining Harvad University in August this year. I credit this turn of good fortune to my alma mater, Alliance Girls High School. Going to Alliance really makes you dream big. Growing up, I had lofty dreams that seemed unrealistic to many, including my parents who insisted I defer my studies at JKUAT where I had been called to pursue a degree in computer science.

They were not on board with my decision to shun the opportunity and peg all my hopes on studying abroad. Thankfully, my application was successful. I learnt about KENSAP from our school college advisor a week before I sat for my KCSE. 

Being a top-rated university, I believe Harvard will offer me world class learning resources that will help me acquire the necessary skills in my area of interest – software engineering.
I hope to grow my social network by interacting with tech gurus in the US. I am also looking forward to work, or get internship opportunities at big companies such as Google and Microsoft. The flexible study schedules will allow me to work as I study, which is a plus for me. 

I will be exposed to many exchange programmes, something I wouldn’t have done while studying in Kenya because exchange programmes are so hard to come by.

Photo credit: Pool

Eleiezer Majambere, 22
Davidson College

I come from Burundi, but my family was forced to flee in 2004 and seek asylum in Rwanda due to political instability. We fled again to Uganda a year later before finally landing at Kakuma Refugee camp in 2015.

As refugees, my family and I have faced several challenges. I have no place to call home and since the Kenyan government does not recognise us, I was never considered by the universities placement body despite having passed my KCSE exams. 

I struggled to fit into the Kenyan education after coming from a French speaking country, but went on to attain an A- grade. I was the only one in my family who completed high school.
After being left out by KUCCPS, and lacking the financial muscle to enroll as a self-sponsored student, I only had one option – wait upon the available scholarships by UNHCR.

I applied through KENSAP in May last year, and two months later, I received confirmation that I had been selected to join Davidson college. The opportunity means a lot me. My family and I have been living in hostile environments throughout our lives and I have a strong desire to change this. That will be my mission once I finish my studies. I have been moving from place to place for a long time, and I am looking forward to finally settling at the university for about four years. The security situation in my country is still uncertain, but I would be happy to go back there once the situation improves.

Photo credit: Pool

Brian Ndeto, 19
Northwestern University

I will be joining Northwestern University in the US in September this year. I grew up in Mukuru kwa Njenga  slums and I firmly believe that knowledge is power. I have always wanted to go to a university outside Kenya. I wanted to study in a country where getting an A in KCSE doesn’t automatically limit you to studying engineering or medicine.

After performing well in KCSE at Starehe Boys centre, I was selected to join Equity Leaders’ Programme, an initiative by Equity bank that seeks to mentor and empower young people, and offers internships to top performers. My mentor informed me about KENSAP and encouraged me to apply. 

I had been called by KUCCPS to study computer science at JKUAT, but I was hesitant about joining. Thankfully, I was accepted to Northwestern University following a successful application.

I am excited about beginning my studies in the US because I will now have the freedom to decide which area to specialise in, from as early as first year.

I will certainly return to Kenya after completing my studies. Having grown up in the slums, I desire to someday contribute to technological advancements back home, especially in my community.

Photo credit: Pool

Lorine Shisia, 19
Brown University, Rhode Island

I was called to start a course in medicine and surgery at Kenyatta University in September last year. I was very worried during that period because my humble family wasn’t able to pay my fees for the six years.

It was because of this that I decided to apply for scholarship opportunities abroad and fortunately, I was accepted at Brown University.

I am relieved because Brown University is offering me a full scholarship, so the burden of paying school fees has been removed from my mum’s shoulders.

I have always strived to be an excellent performer in academics. Had I studied in Kenya, I believe there are opportunities I would not have had access to. I believe that studying in a globally recognised university will enable me to interact with many people and have access to internships in big conglomerates. 

Yes, the Kenyan system provides quality education, but it doesn’t guarantee students of safe and rewarding careers, and that is a big challenge.

I am looking forward to establishing networks, growing professionally, and making proper use of the resources at my disposal.

I would love to take a postgraduate course later, and then return to Kenya as a professor.

Since I am cognisant of the brain-drain trend, I would not want to be part of it and so I will be certain to jet back to Kenya and practice the skills acquired in my field of study.