The Jomo Kenyatta University Student Association (JKUSA) held the first student open forum yesterday, Wednesday 13th July, 2016 in SCC 100 at the University’s main campus, Juja. The forum, the first under the new leadership of JKUSA, brought together students, the student leadership and the administration, all with a collective objective of discussing a number of issues affecting the student fraternity. Gracing the forum from the administration wing included the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Prof. Romanus Odhiambo, the Registrar (Academic Affairs) Dr. Esther Muoria, Associate Dean, William Nyariki, the ICT Director Mwirigi Kiula and representatives from Security and Finance departments. The JKUSA leadership which initiated the forum included the Association’s President Anyungu Wanyungu, Vice President Ms Maimuna Mohammed, Secretary General Joel Onono, Accomodation Secretary Ms Toel Kerubo, Academic Secretary Clement Cheruiyot among others.
The session kicked off with a number of students pointing out areas of concern they needed addressed either by the student leadership or the University administration. Among the key issues that dominated the preliminary phase were concerns about delays in processing of student identification and full digitization of various services in the University. There was an outcry by the students that the University was not fully living up to its identity of being a University of Technology. To these concerns the ICT Director gave assurance of the concerted efforts in place by the ICT Directorate to fully automate systems within the University, pointing out for instance, that the University has adopted an online admission system of new students who will be joining the University in the September intake as well as online registration of units. On matters of delay in ID processing, he explained the backlog of ID dispensation to constituent campuses as the reason for the delay, but also affirmed it had now been cleared. “We are also soon rolling out a customer care centre through which all queries will be addressed. To this effect we shall also do ICT orientation for the entire University,” he added.
Similarly a major concern to the students was matters finance, with complaints about endless queues at the Student Finance and poor services. Coupled with this, some students complained that some staff members in various departments in the University are sometimes very rude to the students when they seek certain services. To this issue the DVC AA Prof. Romanus Odhiambo noted with regret if that was actually the case, and committed to address the matter to various staff members. On matters finance, Duke from the Student Finance Office urged the students to exploit the online systems that are availed for the students to get financial services such as the fee portal rather than make unnecessary trips to the Finance office. He also asked students to give credit where due, citing the automation of finance services, especially during exam cardss, which saw the University drop the use of exam cards during examinations. He however committed to address other concerns that were raised by the students.
‘More should be done to beef up security in the University, especially addition of more street lights,’ one student lamented. This was coupled up with concerns by students about the reopening of Gate D, which had been closed a year ago after student unrest. The DVC noted with concern the issues raised, but also urged students to embrace sobriety during demonstrations or when articulating their issues, noting that the reduction of the street lights was a result of destruction by students during a demonstration. “We are your parents, and we understand that sometimes you get annoyed, but don’t get annoyed with the University property when you strike. There are better civilized ways of articulating issues. And you don’t have to leave empirical evidence to be seen the next day after the strike. In civilized societies, people strike but nobody destroys even a flower.” He however committed that the issues will be addressed immediately.
Still on matters security, one student noted with concern that some security officers in the University are too harsh and treat students with a pre-formed opinion that they are ‘criminals’ or are up to something negative. “To a man with only a hammer in his toolbox, every problem is a nail,” the gentleman added, noting that some of the security officers needed to know they are dealing with students, who are not necessarily up to something sinister thus should retract from their mentality of treating everyone as a suspect. To this the DVC intimated that the administration would engage vaious members of staff in a customer relations training to further improve services.
Apart from matters security, finance and staff service experience, the other issue that dominated the forum were concerns from various students from College of Human Resource Development. Top of the list was an outcry about trips, which some students alleged they rarely go for for several academic years despite paying the trip fee. This was attributed by the high number of students being admitted versus the available resources, but the students put the administration to task on why they would admit more students than the available facilities. From the same college also came a complaint about the delay in processing of student transcripts for several academic years, which the students complained was frustrating, especially when they seek internships or jobs. Both the Registrar, DVC and the Dean committed to look into these issues.
It was however not just books and student finances that perturbed the comrades. One student raised a concern that in his opinion, the University was starting too many environmental and infrastructural ventures at a go without completing them. “Around the main gate is Cherry Park, a park with a lot of potential, but the maintenance is not good, and all we see are posters of ‘Men at Work’, even when there are no men in the vicinity. I wonder if there are ghosts,” he quipped. They urged the administration to look into this immediately, alongside taking up projects that can be completed quickly.
I may not possibly highlight all the issues addressed, but I can note that from where I sat from, it was a successsful give and take from all the parties present. In her closing statement, the Registrar (AA) encouraged the students to feel free to walk inot any office within the University to get services, starting from hers. She also urged them to make more use of the University Library, especially the online platforms such as ebooks and ejournals, which she said the University has heavily invested into, for the benefit of student academic progress and research works.The JKUSA’s Secretary General, Mr. Joel Onono on the other hand explained to the students that the inclusion of the administration in the forum was a deliberate step to ensure some of the issues raised were directly and immediately addressd by the relevant officers.
Echoing similar sentiments, the Association’s President, the ever smiling Mr. Anyungu Wanyungu added; “My role is to engage the administration on your behalf and bring them to you if need be. We need the administration to feel what the students are feeling.” He also urged the students to co-exist in harmony and shun any trace of negative ethnicity. ‘We are going to an election year and the last thing we need is to engage in tribalism. The problems that affect us are the same, irrespective of our tribes. And we’re learned people, we can surely do better.”
Acknowledging the positive gesture and maturity exhibited by the students during the entire forum, the DVC affirmed that issues raised would be looked into. “We love you, we respect you. Let’s continue building this University we both love amidst all the challenges we might face. May God bless you.”