Time for alumni to give back to universities

Graduates of a university have a responsibility to support the institutions. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Kenya stands at a crossroads in our higher education sector. Much public debate over the past three years centres on looking beyond the number of degrees offered and instead delving down deep into quality issues and successes. But quality not only requires astute management and committed faculty and staff, but also expensive resources.

Kenyan universities already compete fiercely for coveted Government of Kenya, bilateral foreign aid and private foundation grants.

Such grants fund unique research and programmes. But in Kenya, our universities feature poorly in global rankings from US News and World Report, BusinessWeek, Times Higher Education Rankings and the Economist in part due to our relatively low level of individual donations. Small gifts by every day regular alumni to our higher education institutions remain dismally low.

Small private liberal arts universities in the US, in contrast, often get more than 30 percent of their alumni in various years donating back to the university. But in Kenya, we hold a more transactional view of our relationship with colleges. We view ourselves as paying for services rendered and feel less pride and less of a sense of responsibility in helping others, especially those we do not personally know, access higher education once we finish.

Nonetheless, Kenyans do indeed thrive as generous people. The CAF World Giving Index ranks Kenya 8th in the whole world for giving with 54 percent of our citizens reporting that in the past month they have donated to charity. First in the world is Indonesia with 59 percent with America 4th at 58 percent and the UK 6th with 55 percent. In comparison in East Africa, Uganda comes in 50th with 39 percent of its population giving charitably, Tanzania 84th with 28 percent, and Rwanda 103rd with only 26 percent donating.


The CAF Foundation measures the proportion of people per country who reported any of the following in the month prior to randomly sampled interviews conducted: helping a stranger, donating money, and/or volunteering time.

In Kenya, we are much more likely to donate our time towards those in need and sponsor individuals rather than give to institutions.

We are more inclined to give to our extended family members or those from our home communities. In comparison, Americans are more likely to donate money to their alma mater universities.

Americans like to fund scholarships, building campaigns, internships, and special events.

Great pride

Universities in the US also publish public lists of all their alumni who donate to the respective college. Donating as an alumnus or alumna is a source of great pride.

In Kenya, most of us fund people we know by paying their collegiate fees directly instead of donating to an anonymous fund run by a university.

Scholarship funds at our colleges often come out of excess revenues allocated to outstanding scholars and those with financial hardships.

Buildings drive often originate from retained earnings or bank loans rather than fundraising campaigns

How can we raise our level of pride in our alma maters? How can we move beyond a transactional relationship between students-parents and universities? How can we champion projects we care about in our tertiary education sector with our financial donations to improve quality? New research out of USIU-A and a consortium of other researchers seek to address these questions within our unique Kenyan context to boost the quality of higher education for the next generation and beyond.

Quality tertiary education requires the support of not only institutions and learners, but also alumni, governments, communities, and industry. Let us build Kenya into the eighth or better-ranked country for university education, not just in giving rates.