International campus hit by temporary closure order

Plans by one of Kenya’s fastest growing private universities to become a regional higher education powerhouse are running into headwinds after the government of Rwanda last month ordered the closure of Mount Kenya University or MKU, Kigali campus.

The decision was made over what it termed acts of xenophobia, discrimination and failure to adhere to quality assurance standards set by the host country.

The university, which has seen phenomenal growth since its inception less than eight years ago, was further accused by Rwanda’s Higher Education Council or HEC, of offering unauthorised courses in health sciences.

The council claimed that the privately owned institution was offering “sub-standard training” in its bachelor degrees in nursing, pharmacy and medical laboratory sciences as well as its bachelor and masters degrees in public health.

The HEC alleged that neither it nor industry regulatory bodies, including the Rwanda Allied Health Professions Council, National Council of Nurses and Midwives and National Pharmacy Council, had given the green light for the courses or even approved the teaching curricula.

“Due to failure to fulfil requirements, academic programmes of Mount Kenya University Kigali campus have been suspended until all the deficiencies are addressed,” said a notice issued by the HEC and addressed to the institution’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stanley Waudo.

The notice precipitated a month-long closure that disrupted learning at the Kigali campus plus other three other satellite campuses in the country and saw more than 1,500 students miss classes as MKU heads held negotiations with Rwandan authorities to end the stalemate.

It was not until 5 October that the stand-off was resolved and Rwanda’s minister of state in charge of technical and vocational education and training, Albert Nsengiyumva, ordered the reopening, following an inspection of facilities and curricula by regulatory bodies.

“The joint verification visit conducted by the Higher Education Council, Rwanda Allied Health Professions Council, National Council of Nurses and Midwives and National Pharmacy Council indicated that MKU Kigali campus has satisfactorily implemented recommendations by relevant bodies,” said the minister in a letter to the university’s founder and chairman Simon Gicharu.

Besides the issues of quality and compliance with rules, various sources indicated that Rwandan authorities were unhappy with apparent discrimination against their citizens in senior management positions.

The sources indicated that nearly all senior positions at the Rwandan campus were held by Kenyans, as were a majority of middle-level managerial positions.

This allegation was however denied by Professor Waudo, who said that the institutions had ensured the majority of the employees were Rwandese and that Kenyans were only holding positions that could not be filled locally.

“Our university is an equal opportunity employer; we cannot send staff to Rwanda unless we fail to get the right person locally; our policy is to give jobs purely on merit,” the vice-chancellor told University World News after surviving the scare.

It remains unclear how the latter issue was resolved but with Rwanda being a member of the East African Community it has ratified agreements allowing free movement of labour, implying that the grievance could only be solved mutually.

The university established its first foothold in Rwanda in 2010 when it opened its Kigali campus, before opening three other learning centres in towns across the country, all with a total student population of 4,500.

It initially offered executive master of business administration, or MBA, courses before adding bachelor and masters programmes in health sciences.

Mount Kenya University has witnessed possibly the fastest growth of any private Kenyan university and has opened 14 campuses and learning centres across Kenya, including a virtual campus.

In the region it also has campuses in Kampala in Uganda, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Bujumbura in Burundi and Hargeisa in the yet to be recognised nation of Somaliland.