Nairobi — The award of a charter to Mount Kenya University (MKU) last week opened up new frontiers in training of health sciences in the country.
MKU is the first private university in Kenya to be authorised to offer degrees and diplomas in pharmacy, pharmaceutical technology and medical laboratory sciences, among others.
Notably, the offering of these courses, including medicine and surgery, have been the preserve of Nairobi and Moi universities.
Still, Moi University is yet to start training in pharmacy, as confirmed by Dean of college of health sciences, Prof Paul Ayuo.
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) got approval at the beginning of this year.
The opening up of training opportunities in health sciences to private universities could help reduce shortages.
A baseline study conducted in 2009 by the Kenya Healthcare Federation found that many health facilities in the country, particularly in rural areas, did not have enough staff. The study linked that to a general shortage of health professionals.
According to the Joint Admissions Board records, less than 400 students are trained every academic year in health science degrees, with Nairobi University taking in the majority (300).
The entry of a private university in the offering of the health disciplines, apart from creating space for more to train in the fields, comes at a time when the country is keen to enhance the vibrancy of tertiary and university education to enable it achieve the Vision 2030 development blueprint.
Educationists reckon that studies on science and technology would be useful for the attainment of the vision.
MKU founder, Simon Gicharu, notes that private universities have in the past shied away from offering training in health sciences because they are expensive to mount. In addition, the criteria for approval by both the Pharmacy and Poisons Board and the Commission for Higher Education is very stringent.
"For any institutions to be accredited, the commission must first be satisfied that there is adequate physical, human, library and financial resources," says CHE secretary, Prof Everret Standa.
"It must also offer viable and relevant academic programmes and prove that it has a sound structure of governance," he adds.
MKU vice chancellor, Prof Stanley Waudo, says the university aims at providing science and technology education "as a vehicle to attain and sustain industrial development in the country".
This ambition is consistent with the overall needs of university education, which is to solve the problems of society.
Prof Waudo says the courses being offered in the university are providing the nation with a human resource base that will play an active role in the attainment of Vision 2030.
MKU becomes the 12th private university in Kenya to have attained full accreditation status.
While awarding the charter to the university last week, President Kibaki encouraged investors to set up more training institutions of such kind to help build more skilled human resource.
And he did point out that to encourage more to study, funds would be made available to all Kenyan students, both in public and private universities in the country, as well as in the East Africa Community.
Already, the government is sponsoring some of the students in the institution through the Higher Education Loans Board.
The history of MKU starts in 1996 when its precursor - Thika Institute of Technology - was founded as a computer outreach programme.
Later in 2000, after it had become a commercial college offering management and computer studies, the government recognised it as a fully-fledged institution of higher learning and granted it registration approval.
In 2005 it became the first private college in Kenya to be allowed to train pharmaceutical technologists.
CHE also approved their request for collaboration with JKUAT to offer both diploma and degree programmes.
The Institute continued to work closely with CHE in line with the stipulated guidelines for establishing a privately funded university.
"After fulfilling the requirements as stipulated, MKU got the authority to establish a fully fledged, privately funded university," Mr Gicharu says.