I’m glad I moved from public to private university

Thursday April 14 2016

Daystar University's main entrance at its Athi

Daystar University's main entrance at its Athi River campus. PHOTO | COSMAS MUTINDA  

By VELMA GORE

I sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2011, and scored an average grade of A-. Naturally, because I had straight As in mathematics and science subjects — chemistry, biology and physics — everyone kept nudging me towards medicine and engineering as my major at university. But I had no particular interest in any of these fields and thus did not conform to their expectations.

Initially, I wanted to pursue a Bachelor of Science in mathematics. What held me back, however, was the fact that I was not aware of the vast opportunities that would be available to me after I completed my studies.

In my ignorance — which I attribute to lack of mentorship at the time I needed it most — I gave up on my dream to pursue higher education in mathematics. Instead, I decided to play safe, and as a result, I applied for a BSc in economics and finance in one of the leading public universities in Kenya.

The main reason I gravitated towards economics was that it had a significant amount of mathematical application in the course work, which was what I was really interested in. What further raised my interest in the course was its ability to integrate various aspects of learning with the end goal of problem-solving and making decisions for a better society.

In my zeal to find my element and change something in the community, I decided to enrol for a degree in economics, which I have grown to love.

Having performed fairly well in the national examination, I was assured of a slot in the competitive Joint Admissions Board (JAB) placements. However, I decided to enrol into a public university a semester earlier as a self-sponsored student, because I did not want to wait so long to join university.

A semester later, my admission letter from JAB came in, and I had been selected for the same course that I had already been admitted for. Because JAB-selected students enjoy subsidised tuition fee, all I had to do to enjoy these benefits was to write a letter to the academic registrar seeking acknowledgement of my shift from a self-sponsored to government-sponsored student.

The process got more complicated when I tried to transfer my grades from my self-sponsored account to my new JAB account and I had to go through many processes and endure long waits, but finally, it got sorted out.

In my second year, I began getting frustrated by the quality of education I was receiving. My lectures were attended by hundreds of students, and often I had to run to class up to an hour earlier to secure a seat at the front of the lecture room, where I could hear what the lecturer was saying and see what he or she would write on the board.

The large number of students made it impossible for the lecturers to interact with us at a personal level or to properly mark our examination scripts.

My turning point was when I went to sit a paper during the end-of-semester exams, and the scores of students from my class were locked out of the exam rooms as the lecturers claimed that the rooms were already full.

It was not until the exam had come to an end two hours later that somebody came around to handle the situation, which saw us sit the same paper long after our colleagues.

Culture shock

This experience made me wish for more conducive learning environment that would help me achieve my full potential. My mother and I decided that I should move to a private university near Nairobi.

The university we chose was somewhat of a culture shock to me. Classes had a maximum of 60 students, enabling the lecturers to interact with us at a personal level. They knew our names! This was not what I was used to.

Our assignments and continuous assessment tests were marked and returned to us on time, and examination results were moderated and made available to students only a few weeks after we had sat the exams, which was not the case in the public university, where students would go through a whole year of school without accessing any of their results through the online system, which kept crashing from overuse by the thousands of students.

The private university was a breath of fresh air for me. I was able to schedule personal sessions with my lecturers to ask questions on areas I had not understood in class. Lectures were much more practical and incorporated different methods of learning such as debates, PowerPoint presentations from both students and lecturers, group work, research work and even practical work using programmes such as STATA and SPSS that economists use in the practical aspect of the field.

The beauty of this move was that once admitted at the private university, I was allowed to apply through the registrar of academics to be exempted from a few of the courses that the private university and the public one had in common, under the economics programme, which I wanted to continue with.

Apart from academic work, I was also exposed to many opportunities of practical learning through educational trips organised by the school both locally and internationally, and through training and development programmes that were done by different organisations that partnered with the university.

Problem-solving skills

Through my three years at the private university, I have developed my learning, communication and self-management skills. My lecturers have pushed me further into enhancing my problem-solving skills, and encouraged me to be adept in numeracy, IT and the use of statistical methods all with the aim of improving the state of society as we know it.

I have also had many opportunities that have fostered my team-work skills. Because I am now at the end of my undergraduate studies and I am confident about my research and analytical skills, and my ability to view problems not only at a personal and national level, but also at an international level, and, most importantly, figure out how such problems can be approached and solved.

I feel like the quality of education I have received has moulded me into an all-rounded person, and I command respect from the people I interact with. The experience has widened my worldview and helped me develop servant leadership and stewardship attitudes, which have improved my productivity in all activities that I undertake.

Thanks to that decision to seek a more holistic education experience, I feel better equipped and ready to face the world, utilise opportunities that are presented to me and to deal with challenges that may come my way.