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Kenyan Universities Attract Foreign Students, Exchange Programs Gain Popularity

Kenyan Universities Attract Foreign Students, Exchange Programs Gain Popularity

Foreign students from all over the world are increasingly pursuing studies and internships at Kenyan universities.

In public universities, enrollment increased from 100,649 students in the 2008-2009 academic year to 142,556 in 2009-2010. About 1 percent of these are foreign students, with this figure rising to more than 10 percent in some private universities.

In response to the rising demand, universities have set up collaborative arrangements, special programs and administrative structures to specifically deal with international students. The students pursue various fields of study.

The U.S. International University has 5,400 students, of whom 88 percent are local and 12 percent international students, representing about 54 nationalities. The university has a well-equipped library with electronic resources, an information technology and recreational center. Other private universities in the country also attract a large number of foreign students, such as the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Pan Africa Christian University and Daystar University.

The University of Nairobi, the largest public university in Kenya, also receives a large number of foreign students for its various programs. Kenya now has 22 public universities, and the government plans to have a university in each of the country’s 47 counties. The public universities are spread over 15 counties.

Internships being a mandatory requirement for the completion of many undergraduate programs in most universities all over the world, international internships are gaining currency in Kenya.


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The development of research centers in the more established universities has fueled this demand. The centers focus on seeking solutions to contemporary issues such as climate change and health. Students interested in such issues take internships to understand and participate in the research.

Over the years, U.S. International University has partnered with the Columbia School of Business, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the James R. Jordan Foundation, among other organizations, to expand their programs.

Foreign students have widely varying reasons for seeking an education in Kenya. Some had no choice – their parents moved into the country for work.

“I came to Kenya when my father was posted to work with an international humanitarian organization Nairobi,” said Priyanka Thali, a student from India.

For others, especially those from around Africa, their parents wanted them to experience a good education with American standards without having the cost of actually sending them to the U.S.

“Here, the cost of living is not high,”  said William Barnabas, a student from Zimbabwe. “It’s quite affordable and there isn’t much strain. It was reasonable to come here for a quality education without having to go all the way to the States. Moreover, I have my family here.”

The undergraduate programs provided in local universities make the students globally marketable. U.S. International University offers degrees in international relations and international business administration. These courses are popular with students from all over Africa and beyond.

Universities offering international student academic programs have well established and properly managed accommodations for their students. This makes it easy for international students to move in and settle. A standard hostel in most universities is designed to accommodate two students per room.

Kenya presents an ideal opportunity for students everywhere to learn about the growth of a developing economy and the effects of the policies it has pursued over the years. The challenges that the country faces, such as health hazards, also present opportunities for various research projects in their attempts to find permanent solutions to tropical and other diseases.

“For a developing country, Kenya’s education standards are quite impressive,” said Magayu Magayu, a communications lecturer at the University of Nairobi. “Our universities are as good as any the world over.”

Foreign students get to experience the country’s great tourist attractions, coastal beaches and cultures. These, among others, endear local universities to foreign students.

Local chapters of international student organizations play a great role in promoting exchange programs and local internships such as AIESEC (International Association of Students in Business and Economics), Students in Free Enterprise and the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Expertise.

They organize inter-university collaboration, sometimes exchanging one student for another to work on projects in their opposite universities. In the case of AIESEC, the students put up a project to be managed by local students with the help of foreign students. The projects aim at impacting local societies positively.

The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture, for instance, works in collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming, and students from America and Europe regularly participate in work at the institute and in its outreach activities.

The internships create an opportunity for students to engage in helpful and meaningful activities beyond their countries. They open up the young minds to global issues and appreciation of other cultures. They also help the participants to develop a culture of social responsibility, encouraging them to become more willing to get involved in local community activities.

The positive effects are not only seen among foreign students; local students, too, get to exhibit a good level of open-mindedness and holistic thinking on global issues. This is because they, too, experience cultural exchange at a localized level by interacting with the international students. They exchange ideas and opinions, gaining a lot of insight professionally and socially.

“My interaction with students from all over the world has enabled me to deal with a broad range of nationalities, something I never experience in school,” said Mary Wangui, who is studying for a bachelor of arts degree in international relations. “It will be of great help if I ever go out of the country for further studies or join an international organization.”

But higher education institutions are not the only beneficiaries of international programs.
There are about 20 international high schools and primary schools in Kenya. The schools offer both local and international curriculums.

These schools offer a wide range of international languages and teach the General Certificate of Secondary Education, using the British curriculum. They attract a mixture of local and foreign students.

The challenge with these schools is that they are expensive, charging up to about $20,000 per term. The international schools are considered prestigious and target high-income families.