Prof Winston Akala is the Principal of Koitalel Samoei University College, a constituent college of the University of Nairobi. He spoke to Nation.Africa about the progress, opportunities, challenges and vision of the Nandi County-based institution as it gears towards the award of a charter.
What strides has Koitalel University College made since its establishment?
The number of students has increased since the establishment of this institution in 2019. Four years ago, we had 56 students but the figure has grown to 949. We expect to hold our first graduation this year. This is a feat.
We offer five academic programmes – three undergraduate and two graduate.
Koitalel University College has 80 post-graduate students. We offer Bachelor’s degrees in Education (Arts), Education Early Childhood and Commerce. We hope to start more courses.
We have convinced the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service that we have capacity and facilities to offer the new academic programmes.
The agency has allowed us to offer two new courses and will assign us students this year.
We intend to set up the Koitalel Samoei Institute of African Studies in honour of the legend the institution is named after.
When I came to Koitalel, the university had Sh55 million in consolidated debts but the issue has been dealt with. Koitalel University College is not in financial problems.
Most public universities are grappling with the problem of a bloated workforce. We regulate recruitment here. Koitalel is a small university with about 100 workers. More than 20 of the academic staff are PhD holders, an unusual coup for a small institution. Most were seconded from the University of Nairobi. We also hire on-need basis.
We have outsourced security and are in process outsourcing farm management and cleaning services. The University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and Kenya University Staff Union (Kusu) Koitalel chapters were unveiled recently.
What is the progress in getting a charter? When is Koitalel likely to be a fully-fledged university?
An inspection team from the Commission on University Education visited the institution recently.
We hope the team will recommend the award of the charter as we have made tremendous progress.
Are there courses the institution is focusing on? What does Koitalel University College want to be known for?
Our niche is in sports science management and agriculture bio-engineering. This region is a spawning ground for sportspeople. It is not just about athletics. We want to develop all sports. We want to train coaches and psychologists.
We realise that some of our sportspeople are abused by managers.
We also want to develop strong bio-systems that will support agriculture but our approach will be different. We will train bio-systems engineers and extension officers.
We plan to have demonstration units so that the university works with communities to generate funds and develop programmes. Our vision is to transform Koitalel to a top sporting university. We will use the models in sports and agriculture to raise revenue.
Has the university college been looking for partnerships locally and globally?
In sports, there are partnerships with international universities to support us develop programmes. We have signed an MoU with Tampere University, Finland, to assist us develop Sports Science courses.
We are also engaging with Varala Institute of Sports that is based in the same country. We will roll out these programmes after becoming a fully-fledged university. Koitalel is working with the UoN for mentorship and hopes to grow relations with other universities.
Lack of accommodation and learning facilities are some of the main challenges facing local universities. How is the situation at Koitalel?
We have enough lecture halls but hostels are few. We have talked to locals to build hostels, which university administrators supervise to ensure they meet the requisite standards.
When we meet them, we assure them that we will sensitise our students to maintain standards, while hoping that they (communities) ensure the environment and security is habitable. This is a pilot programme. I don’t think any other university has such a scheme.
Of the 934 students, we can only accommodate 160,mainly first years and those in need. We prefer not to build hostels as that will in the end require managers, janitors and cleaners, leading to a bloated workforce. Universities should not be in the business of building hostels. Focus should be on the core functions of teaching and research.
Public universities have suffered as a result of falling government funding. Has that affected operations at Koitalel? How have you dealt with the issue?
Our strategy, if given time, is to establish a sports academy to tap on training and sponsorship. The intention is to harness the sports potential and have skilled people, raising revenue in the process. We do not want to queue at the National Treasury for cash.
Koitalel University will engage farmers and provide solutions to challenges facing them. We are also looking at setting up demonstration farms for revenue generation. We have established a tea farm and are exploring the possibility of branding our tea for market. The administration is doing monitoring to ensure recruitment is rationalised.
We are lucky for being a young university for now. It is not really a big problem.
There is a general decline in university student enrolment. Some high school learners are opting for Technical and Vocational and Training institutes (TVETs). What is Koitalel doing to make its courses attractive and marketable? Which areas should institutions focus on to increase enrolment?
We focus on providing practical skills that are relevant to the job market. We also offer flexible learning options, provide opportunities for practical experience and use digital marketing strategies to promote our courses.
Universities have embraced e-learning. Where is Koitalel?
When the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted activities, the institution fully embraced e-learning. We used our management system for learning and examinations.
After the lifting of the pandemic restrictions, we took the decision not to have exclusive e-learning due to administrative challenges when it comes to examinations. We have blended learning, integrating physical and online classes.
Most courses are taught virtually as they do not require much presence.
Others like Physical Education in Sports, Mathematics and Statistics are taught physically.
We administer examinations physically. The quality of examination is important and should not be compromised.
Kenyan universities are known for great research findings and innovations but that is rarely felt by the intended beneficiaries and the country as a whole. How does Koitalel address that?
Koitalel University College is working on two different research projects. One is sponsored by the World Bank through the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the other is through the Erasmus grant.
The World Bank project is an area of training known as School-Based Teachers Support System. We discovered that students in Kenya are disadvantaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas like Sciences and Mathematics.
They said Mathematics and English are critical for learning STEM subjects.
Are there any expansion plans for Koitalel? What would Prof Akala want to be remembered for?
Construction of the Sh680 million main campus in Nandi Hills is ongoing.
However, there are funding challenges as we did not get the required amount from the government. We hope the campus will be completed on time.
As a young university, we should be receiving a seed fund for infrastructure. It is our hope that the government will look into this.
We have not been able to hire academic staff for two years yet the student number is growing fast.
I am passionate about education and I do my work diligently. We are working together to meet the goals of Koitalel University College.
My vision is aligned to the aspirations people have about the university.