Student activism unmasking discrepancies in private universities…

All my almost ten years of higher learning have been spent at private institutions. I have always had a fear of getting caught in student unrests that are a norm in public institutions and the impacts they have on an individual’s learning processes. But little did I know that my unacquainted perception was only shadowing my understanding of the injustices faced by students in these institutions. I must say that I have always been a bit silly to have such a biased viewpoint of public universities and trying to avoid them solely based on student uprisings. But did I understand what drove striking students into activism? Nope.

At times I wondered if one day I would ever get to experience the challenges faced by my public varsity colleagues, then came the unfortunate turn of events at Daystar University. This is a Christian liberal arts institution where I’m currently pursuing a Masters in Communication and the ongoing student activism has helped to unmask the predicaments that students in private institutions are facing but are seldom made public. If it wasn’t for the bold move by the university’s student leaders who are only fulfilling our mandate to represent us, I wouldn’t have thought that not all’s right in private universities. With less public scrutiny, little is known concerning the management of private institutions and that is where student activism comes in to unmask.

In this generation, it’s quite hard to ignore the fact that active students are liable for not only what’s happening within the walls of their lecture rooms but even what’s going on within the administration blocks. So no one should ever think that we are only followers who just have to listen but we’re also springing leaders who command immense influence and can affect the critical affairs of a university. So Daystar’s student leaders – Aloys Otieno and Karwitha Karimi deserve a worthy commendation that despite the suspensions they have faced, they have never abandoned the students’ cause b’se they understand and diligently uphold the ideals of servant leadership they carry and therefore deserve our fulltime support.

Liberalising higher education has helped to improve Kenyan academic standards which has ensured an equitable distribution and management of educational resources. It’s important to note that even when an academic entity is private, it can never escape scrutiny – whether from inside or outside – so long as it deals with the different publics in one way or another to whom it is answerable. Keen attention must be paid to what’s happening behind the closed doors among private institutions’ operations. Their private status doesn’t grant them immunity from being answerable to those they serve since they do so in public interest. Their affairs should be subjected to periodic public consultation to ensure compliance with both legal and ethical prerequisites such as finances and regulation. The confidence bestowed in them by their primary stakeholders (students and parents) not disregarding the immense amount of money, time and attention should all never be taken for granted but instead, be transparently accounted for.

Sometimes our own ignorance misleads us into believing that private institutions are autonomous and that their affairs are managed per the wishes of those in charge such as tuition increment without due consultation from the students. But it’s not until you’ve been pinned to the wall will you then realize that you must stand up and exercise your natural rights to a fair hearing into how your own affairs should be handled by those tasked to. The state governments’ reluctance to intervene timely in private institutions’ crises renders their students at the mercy of the owners and hence the need for student activism.

Daystar student leaders have shown us that despite the lack of government help to their appeals, we must take the initiative and rise up beyond the clouds for ourselves to effect the desired change since we’re the affected ones and therefore we know how best things should be done. So what’s happening at Daystar is that despite the calls for intervention by the students to former Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiangi’i and his successor Ms. Amina Mohamed, there has been no state intervention into the ongoing deadlock. This has left students on their own to deal with their issues and hence resorting to activism.

Then what does the ongoing crisis at Daystar teach us? Well, a few things; despite being seen as exquisite, some private institutions also face similar challenges like public ones as regards to institutional management and answerability. Still, structural discrepancies also exist in private institutions much as they do in public varsities whereby right from the university councils through to the Senate, parents, students, and the teaching or non-teaching staff, there might be a lack of direct communication due to power gaps. This makes the governing bodies to seem distant from their subordinates and hence out of touch with the realities on the ground. Finally, the Daystar crisis teaches us that we should never give away our rights as students to a few ‘elites’ just b’se we entrusted them with instructing us, so we must fully be aware of our learning circumstances at all times and be eagle-eyed to identify any inconsistencies that might reveal management irregularities.

While we push on for better collective reforms, let’s not ignore the power of student activism and the influence they wield. This is a young generation that is so much alert and exposed to rigidness and hence feels every pinch of what matters them. Their concerns should be made top priority b’se the institution serves them and they hold it at stake, including its survivability. Actually, with private institutions, there shouldn’t be any excuse for not paying attention to student concerns since they don’t operate on resolute mechanisms the like government-owned ones.

Their small and manageable size renders them the flexibility to quickly adapt to instantaneous changes, it also gives them enough time and space to look into matters and resolve issues promptly without augmenting them into the public realm. As I wait for directives from my faithful student leadership at Daystar whom I mandated to represent me and my concerns, I keep praying that normalcy returns very soon so that we do what brought us here – to learn under the right conditions.

As Psalms 130:5 says “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope” so I shall keep trusting his guidance to make matters upright for the better.

Thank you for reading…

 

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