Kenya to drop visas in international student drive

The government is to abolish visas and special entry conditions for East Africans wishing to study at any university or college in Kenya, in a move that could see the country outsmart other regional states in the race to attract international students.

Students from the rest of East Africa will not need to acquire a visa or an entry permit so long as they have documents showing they have been admitted to a local tertiary institution, according to Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi.

“All East African students are welcome to seek education in Kenya,” said the minister. “No visa is needed any more because we want to open our doors to all neighbours seeking knowledge in our country.”

The other countries in the East African Community, or EAC, are Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Kaimenyi added that Kenya opening its doors to students from the rest of the EAC would also boost regional integration of education and the free movement of people.

The minister disclosed that lecturers from any of the regional countries would also be free to work in Kenya without seeking work permits. “We want as a country to open our doors wide where movement and pursuit of education is involved,” the minister explained.

Also likely to benefit from the move is South Sudan, Africa’s newest state and one of the least developed in terms in higher education infrastructure. Many of its students seek education in Kenyan institutions such as the United States International University, Daystar University and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

Previously all students intending to study in Kenya had to obtain student visas or entry permits. Similarly, lecturers had to seek work permits despite repeated assurances that East Africa was integrating as a bloc without borders regarding the free movement of labour.

Tanzania has been harshly criticised for maintaining what is seen is as stringent rules regarding the movement of workers and students, impeding the number of East Africans participating in education in that country.

With more than 320,000 students and some 65 registered universities and colleges, Kenya is the regional leader in higher education, followed by Uganda with more than 200,000 students enrolled in around 36 institutions, according to the regional higher education body the Inter-University Council for East Africa.

Countries in the region have been cooperating in many areas including higher education, but increased competition and rapid growth in higher education in Kenya and Uganda have led the two countries to attract the lion’s share of international learners.

Until recently, Uganda was becoming the regional higher education hub, with the country’s private universities especially aggressively seeking learners from the EAC and beyond.

But Kenya’s move to completely open its doors to East African students could help to make Nairobi the region’s higher education capital.