Rising cases of varsity students' deaths should worry all of us

Death is a normal occurrence. But when the death of young students is shrouded in mystery, it cannot be business as usual. [iStockphoto]

Getting the grade to join a university in Kenya is widely celebrated. This is the culmination of many years of study and is supposed to prepare the young people for the job market. It is therefore a moment of joy for both the student, parents and relatives.

Admission to university is also welcomed by many families as a glimmer of hope. For many students from under-privileged backgrounds, entry to the highest institution of learning is seen as the only key to getting the family out of poverty. And so the joy of joining university is understandable.

It is therefore very shocking and sad when a young life is cut short in its prime. The pain for the families is unexplainable. The promising dreams are lost suddenly. In some cases, the hope for the family is dashed.

Death is a normal occurrence in life and is expected at some point in our lives because we are all mortal. But when the death of young students is shrouded in mystery, it cannot be business as usual.

The cause of death for these university students is reported as murder, suicides or even accidents. For example, the daily newspapers reported that this year alone, 20 students have died of suicide. Many others are reported murdered. Cases of students being killed due to crime have also been reported. Recently, a first year student at Daystar University was reportedly murdered just days after reporting to campus. If this does not move you, I don’t know what will.

Some of the reasons that university administrations have given as being major issues driving students to suicide are stress, alcohol and drug abuse coupled with societal pressure. This is in line with a report by Kenyatta National Hospital in July 2015 that showed that over 100 cases reported over a period of two months of attempted suicide among youths between 18 and 25 years were university students. This was collaborated by Dr Chitayi Murabula, a psychiatrist and mental health advocate, who said during an interview that the second leading cause of death among youths aged 15 and 29 years is suicide.

These statistics paint a picture of a society that is ailing. The future of a society lies in the hands of its young people. Several universities have put in place measures to curb or reverse this tread but their intervention could be seen as too little too late. It will take a concerted effort of the university administration, the parents and society in general to come up with solid measures to help the students remain safe on campus.

Joining university comes with its own share of challenges for many students. First, unlike in the past when many students resided in university hostels, today, many students are forced to look for cheap accommodation in neighbourhoods that could be risky for them. This in itself poses a dilemma for the students who have to juggle many things at the same time. Poverty has pushed these students to this fate.

Second, the students may not be well prepared for the freedom that joining university comes with. Some use this newfound freedom to experiment on alcohol, drugs or even sex, vices that some students are not able to break from.

To help the students cope better with university stay, the institution's administrations must work hand in hand with stakeholders to equip the students with life skills. While we appreciate that some universities are offering this to their first year students, it is clear that this is not enough and more needs to be done throughout the students’ time on campus. A proper transition programme from high school to university is probably what is needed.

We can no longer continue to bury our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich while our most promising young people lose their lives from causes that can be prevented.  Improving security around campus has been a matter of debate for a long time now. More needs to be done!

-Ms Ngigi is an author as well as a personal growth and leadership coach. [email protected]