College students troop back to private hostels for online classes

University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Prof. Stephen Kiama (right) and his Kenyatta University (KU) counterpart Prof. Paul Wainaina at KU on September 9, 2020. The two discussed challenges affecting higher learning institutions.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Students attending middle-level colleges within the town also reside in the private hostels.
  • Kenya’s annual university student enrolment has grown from 27,000 in 1990 to more than 500,000 currently.

Thousands of university and college students have trooped back to hostels they have rented off-campus even as the institutions keep their doors shut while switching to virtual learning.

This is a welcome relief for investors who have suffered immense losses due low or zero occupancy of their facilities since learning institutions were shut in March.

“I come from Kilifi County. I was forced to come back to the hostel because learning online from the village will not work for me. I can access various services here,” James Nzaro told Higher Education. He is a student at Kenyatta University and lives in a hostel at Kahawa Wendani, two kilometres from the university.

Most higher education institutions lack accommodation facilities forcing students to seek private hostels in safe neighbourhoods where they can also do their private studies with minimal distraction.

The situation has now been made dire by the need for high speed and reliable Internet connection to facilitate online learning. Hostels that provide free or cheap Wi-fi to students are becoming more attractive to learners because that is now the mode of teaching and learning.

 “There is better environment here for learning. I can do my own things and even study late into the night without interruption,” Alvin Wamacho, a third year economics student the University of Nairobi told Higher Education. He is living in a private residence on Jogoo Road.

Many students do not reside in campus hostels due to congestion. However, private accommodation is fraught with challenges ranging from insecurity, poor sanitation and lack of easy access to on-campus services.

Private hostels

Reports of theft, drug and substance abuse within the private hostels and muggings, sometimes resulting in death have been common among student communities who live off-campus. The trend of students seeking accommodation off-campus has gained traction in recent years as their numbers surge and most universities and colleges are unable to accommodate everybody in their facilities. For example, the University of Embu currently has more than 5,000 students but only 752 of them reside in hostels on the campus.

Kirinyaga University has about 4,000 students renting hostels in Kutus town and within its environs since it does not offer accommodation to its more than 4,500 students. The university has a list of about 30 hostels that it recommends to students for accommodation.

Students attending middle-level colleges within the town also reside in the private hostels. Some individuals have converted their homes into small-scale student accommodation facilities to cash in on the financial boom.

Kenya’s annual university student enrolment has grown from 27,000 in 1990 to more than 500,000 currently. An equally high number of students are enrolled in middle-level colleges. Statistics show that only about 25 per cent of university students can be accommodated within on-campus, forcing thousands to seek alternative accommodation.

“My family lives in Kamulu and it’s difficult to commute daily to campus and that’s why I chose to reside here. I stayed in the university hostels in my first year but I didn’t like it,” Diana Kemunto t=said adding that she was pushed away by the congestion, noise and poor maintenance of the facilities. She is a fourth-year student of environmental studies currently studying from a private hostel in Parklands.

Many institutions also have restrictions on students cooking their own meals due to safety concerns. Students, on the other hand, want to cook in order to save some money and also eat well at their convenience. They find this flexibility in the private hostels.

Bed space

Previously, many institutions of higher learning pegged admission on bed space but this has changed tremendously. For example, the Kenya Medical Training Colleges campuses have an enrolment of 50,000 students having grown from 28 to 71 campuses in 43 counties in just five years. About seventy per cent of these students reside off-campus.

The establishment of the institutions of higher learning has also spurred economic growth within their localities and many investors have built hostels to take advantage of the guaranteed tenants. However, this lucrative business was at first hit by reduced numbers after reforms in the administration of KCSE resulted in fewer students qualifying for university admission.

“The truth is that the enrolment has gone down. The numbers have really dwindled as we used to admit over 2,000 students but now we are doing slightly above 1,000.

It was a very good source of revenue even for the local communities,” Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Vice Chancellor Prof Stephen Agong’ said.

 [email protected]