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Varsity system renders students vulnerable

The death of a university student, Sharon Otieno, in the hands of murderers is just another in a long catalogue. There have been too many deaths of female students in Kenyan universities. The bottom line in all these stories have been love gone sour, with horrific stories of female students meeting brutal ends at the hands of hired thugs or their lovers.

For most, if not all, of these female students, the relationships with their lovers have been based on financial expediency. They get into love affairs so they can be supported financially. The spectrum is across the board, from engagements with the rich and famous, to cohabiting with hustlers who have means of income.

Deaths are not confined to female students. Male university students have also been meeting their deaths in numbers. Many are involved in reckless behaviour and meet their deaths from attacks by thugs, even innocuous accidents such as falling off halls of residence,while others are killed while stealing. A good number have also met their deaths from girlfriends who are also students.

The whole picture is of a university system that is in deep turmoil. Times have changed, and students in Kenyan universities are facing really hard times financing their studies. Students who went to university in the previous system look back with nostalgia at a time when all students could eat good food at university kitchens, had pocket money from student allowances otherwise known as “boom”, and were living in well regulated and secure halls of residence.

That system has since been replaced by a structure of pay as you go, with everything—from food, to tuition to rooms in halls of residence—only accessible on payment. In other words, students must have money every day to study.

One of the biggest shortcomings is the failure of the university system and parents to respond appropriately to the new dynamic. The average student now attending university is arguably immature. The elimination of A level segment from the education system in Kenya robbed the varsity-bound student of two formative years, a critical period when they come of age and matured.

Worse, for female students, there is now an all-pervasive phenomenon of “sponsors”, which seems to have become something to aspire to, and has, apparently, been widely accepted in varsities.

The university system and parents alike must respond urgently. Universities must acknowledge that the average student today is probably lost in a maze, overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what they must deal with—attending class, studies, grades, survival tactics in terms of meals, dressing, peer pressure to live certain lifestyles, family expectations, shortage of cash, you name it. And that this student, not being at the same level of maturity as students previously were, has poorly-developed coping mechanisms.

Universities need to develop systems that enable parents to closely monitor their children’s activities in campus. If a student misses a certain number of classes, the parent should be notified. If a student misses even one continuous assessment test (CAT), the parent must be immediately notified.  There is a clear correlation between missed classes and these deaths, because it points to the student engaging in things other than their studies.

Parents have a lot of work to do. First, they must keep close tabs on what their children are up to in university. Most parents simply close shop on parenting the minute their children go to university. They have no idea what the children are doing when, where and how. Parents must immediately stop this abdication.

Secondly, parents must counsel children, more so female students, and constantly remind them why they sent them to university—acquire skills useful in the job market. Too many parents are apparently comfortable when their daughters get into relationships and become toys of powerful and rich men. It is the kiss of death.

Thirdly, parents must understand they are still financially responsible for upkeep of their children in universities. When the students get broke, they get desperate. From there, it is all the way downhill. Do not abdicate this responsibility.

Finally, to students: focus on your studies, and set out to determine your future. Stay out of trouble. Universities are schools. Finish school and get out into the world to seek your destiny.

—gathukara@gmail.com