Not long ago, a video purportedly showing University of Nairobi (UoN) students sleeping on cold verandahs went viral on social media. The students had just reported back to campus for a new semester, but could not find accommodation.
The university's administration has since denied that the students captured on the video were indeed from the institution. John Orindi, the university's director of corporate affairs, disputed the claims, saying the video was made and circulated by a student who wanted to contest a leadership position at the university and and wanted to be seen to be championing the welfare of students.
He denied that the university was experiencing an accommodation crisis.
Just before the start of the current semester, UoN closed down its wooden hostels of residence, popularly known as prefabs, partly to comply with Commission for University Education (CUE) accommodation guideline. The prefabs used to accommodate about 1,000 students.
Prof Jackson Maalu, the director of Student Welfare Association, says abiding by CUE regulations is for the benefit of students.
With the entrance of freshmen, some continuing students - mostly second and third years from main and Chiromo campuses - have been forced to sleep in shifts in what is famously known among students as 'pirating'.
Orindi says the UoN enrols a total of 85,000 students in all its campuses across the country against 10,000 bed spaces. That huge accommodation deficit has been compounded by the closing down of prefabs, which had a capacity to accommodate more than 957 students.
“It is for the safety of our students that the prefabs are going to be demolished and replaced with a new building under a public-private partnership arrangement," says Prof Maalu.
Charles Kibiwot, a third year meteorology student, was captured in the video that went viral pleading with the Ministry of Education to come their rescue and address the accommodation problems.
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"It’s very hard here... We are suffering: we don’t have rooms, we sleep outside, and the university has turned a deaf ear. Many students are suffering in silence and sleep in the TV rooms,” says Kibiwot.
Kibiwot says he struggled to find a place to sleep at the beginning of the Semester. He opted to carry his bedding to the Central Catering Unit where he met other students who had also failed to get rooms. He is joined by his friend Kangu Faraji, a third-year Meteorological student whom he shares his bedding with.
“Some students here opt to enjoy the free Wi-Fi services... During the day, they go sleep in their comrades' rooms. Such students sometimes miss lectures,” he says.
Orindi says that admission in universities is not linked to bed capacity. “We admit the number that qualifies, not the number we can accommodate," he says.
But Kweyu Isaac, a third-year bachelor's of arts student, says the administration should have accommodated students in prefabs for a semester before a lasting solution can be found.
“We want a place we can sit and relax after classes. That has to be a hostel,” says Kweyu.
Orindi says it’s long since the institution built on-campus hostels: "Most of the hostels, especially prefabs, were built at the start of double intakes in the early 1990s. Universities were asked to build temporary structures to accommodate more students and that is how the prefabs came into existence."