Accommodation crisis hits University of Nairobi

Students wait to be registered for admission at the University of Nairobi. The University started admitting first year students on Monday. Photo/SALATON NJAU

What you need to know:

  • About half of the 4,832 students, who reported to the college on Monday, on Tuesday jammed the institution’s Student Welfare Authority offices pleading for rooms in the hostels.
  • Most of the students are yet to receive loans from Helb and therefore do not have money to rent private hostels.

The University of Nairobi has been hit by an accommodation crisis that has left thousands of freshmen admitted under the double intake programme without a room on campus.

About half of the 4,832 students, who reported to the college on Monday, on Tuesday jammed the institution’s Student Welfare Authority offices pleading for rooms in the hostels.

Most of the students are yet to receive loans from the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) and therefore do not have money to rent private hostels. A government directive to delink university admissions from bed capacity has put a heavy strain on facilities such as lecture halls and accommodation.

“Admission is no longer pegged on bed spaces to open up our institutions of higher learning to more of those who qualify for enrolment every year,” said UoN’s acting academic registrar, Ben Waweru.

“With the little funding from government, we have to make a choice between investing in teaching or building hostels.”

Most students depend on university-owned hostels for accommodation because they are safe, cheaper and conveniently located close to the lecture halls. It costs an average of Sh5,000 annually to rent an on-campus hostel.

Maureen Chelagat, a freshman at UoN, on Tuesday pondering where to get accommodation after she missed out on campus hostels.

“I don’t have the money to rent a room of my own. I’ll camp here till I’m assisted to get a room,” she told the Business Daily.

Off-campus accommodation costs about Sh4,000 per month, more than four times what is charged by universities. Some students are thus forced to live in the slums, some illegally in the university housing (with fellow students) while others jointly rent a unit outside campus and share the expenses, but this has adversely affected their learning.

With the number of students growing by a quarter annually and no new hostels put up, public universities have been forced to partner with private developers to build student accommodation.

For example, the University of Nairobi with a student population of about 57,000 can only accommodate about a fifth or 12,500 learners. Kenyatta University has a bed capacity of 17,000; slightly more than a third of the total 42,000 student population.

Private developers are seeing the shortage as a business opportunity and some are already bidding to provide housing facilities for public universities.

Aengus Investment Properties, a South African property developer, is in talks with Kenyatta and Moi universities to build hostels through a public-private partnership that could be a ground-breaking example of how to deal with the crisis.

The Johannesburg-based real estate firm plans to construct student apartments with 15,000 beds in the two colleges.

“Universities in Africa often have the land, but they have neither the funding nor the expertise to build and manage student accommodation,” said James Huff, the manager of Africa projects at Aengus Investment Properties.

The projects will be on a build, own, operate, transfer (BOOT) model where the investor will construct the hostel and collect rent for 15 to 20 years before handing the building over to the university.

“Over a lease period of 25 years, we will then be able to transfer skills to the education institution for which we build accommodation and it will then be able to take over both ownership and management of the building,” Mr Huff told the Business Daily.

The collaboration is based on the Public Private Partnership Act, which provides the legal framework on how government and its agencies can engage the private sector in financing, construction, development, operation, or maintenance of infrastructure projects.

Property developers around universities located in rural and peri-urban areas have taken advantage of the housing crisis to construct houses that they let to the students at a fee.

Dedan Kimathi University of Technology has accredited eight privately-owned hostels located within the college’s vicinity where students can rent rooms costing between Sh2,000 and Sh5,500, depending on amenities provided.

Private universities are able to manage student accommodation because of their low enrolment numbers and the fact that they outsource hostel facilities.
Mount Kenya University works with developers who provide private external hostel services for students who miss out on internal hostels.

“The external hostels are approved by the university. They are allowed to pick the university’s students for accommodation purposes. There is an agreement of understanding between these hostel providers and the university which is reached upon the hostel meeting certain minimum standards,” MKU says on its website.

The accommodation crisis at UoN is partly because the institution sits right at the heart of the city where land is expensive and it lacks additional space for hostel expansion.

Most of the student hostels at the UoN were constructed by donor agencies such as USAid and Kenyans’ philanthropic spirit, especially from the Asian community.

The Kenyan government’s contribution to UoN was mainly by surrendering its assets which were located close to the University. These include State House Road Hostels, Government Secretarial Training Institute (Parklands Campus), Kenya Institute of Administration (Lower Kabete), and Institute of Social Studies (Kikuyu Campus).

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