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Presbyterian University of East Africa may be saved by land sale

Legal troubles and financial issues hamper rapid enrollment growth and expansion

by Robyn Davis Sekula | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Robert Waihenya Ngugi speaking at the Kenya Mission Network meeting in Dallas. (Photo by Robyn Davis Sekula)

DALLAS — The Kenya Mission Network conference meeting here Feb. 8–10 touched on a topic that is critical to Kenyans: the potential closure of the Presbyterian University of East Africa as well as two other larger universities with religious roots.

On Jan. 25, Acting Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i revoked the operation license of Presbyterian University of East Africa, according to The Daily Nation, a media outlet in Kenya. Matiang’i cited the fact that the university hasn’t paid staff in two years and mounting debt as reasons for the closure. Over 1,000 students are enrolled in the university for the 2017–18 school year.

But the problems could be solved with the sale of land, said the Rev. Robert Waihenya Ngugi, who lives in Nairobi and came to Dallas for the conference. He gave an update on the situation surrounding the university, also explaining the origins of the Presbyterian University and how it came to be under government scrutiny. He serves national director of the Missions and Social Responsibilities Board in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

“It is not a lost cause,” Ngugi said.

About 40 people attended the Kenya Mission Network conference, held in Dallas at Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Members of churches in Detroit, Oregon, West Virginia, Virginia, New Jersey, Georgia and more attended the meeting. The group meets annually with an informal structure that encourages sharing and collaboration.

In addition to ordering the closure of the Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA), government officials also ordered a forensic financial audit of Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) and Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), reports Business Daily Africa.

The agency has also proposed that CUEA and KeMU be given a year to restructure their operations and gain solid financial footing. Both of those universities have charters, unlike PUEA, which is still under interim authority to operate.

Origins of the Presbyterian University of East Africa

The Commission for University Education, which is part of the Kenyan government, gave the Presbyterian Church of East Africa interim authority to open the Presbyterian University of East Africa in 2007. The university accepted its first students in 2008.

As the school’s enrollment grew the university’s president created satellite campuses, Ngugi said. The money received by the satellite campuses wasn’t coming back to the main campus and unfortunately, the university began to accumulate debt quickly.

Ngugi notes that the Presbyterian Church of East Africa had been told not to oversee the university too tightly — to let those who were running the university and more familiar with higher education do their jobs. “There was not direct supervision by the church,” he said. “That is where the waters started beating the boat.”

The main campuses needed expansion to help handle the growth of classes, so the university sought a contractor to build four new buildings. But the work was substandard and the buildings shoddy, so the university fired the contractor.

The contractor sued the PCEA, and courts ruled that the PCEA owed the contractor money, adding a penalty when the payment wasn’t made. At this point, the Commission on Higher Education began scrutinizing the university and told university officials the school would be closing in late January 2018, Ngugi said.

The university didn’t have the funds, he said, so it decided to sell some land to clear the debt to the contractor as well as other debts. The university was barred from selling the land, but has recently gained permission to do so. Once the land sale is complete the university will be able to pay the contractor, clear other debts and begin to chart a course forward.

University has strong support

Two Presbyterians who have taught at the university shared their experiences at the Kenya Mission Network meeting. Bobby McCutcheon, a retired professor at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, went to the university and worked from January to March 2016 to teach Greek to students going into ministry. “The classrooms were rudimentary, and the internet was spotty,” McCutcheon said. “But the spirit was wonderful.”

The Rev. Kamau Thiaru, who has taught theology at the university for two years, said he believes the university has done wonderful work and can be sustainable if given the opportunity. “In my opinion, there have been major strides in the growth of the university in the past two years,” he said.

Kenya Mission Network members asked what they could do to support the university. Ngugi told them the university would like to have more visiting professors to help teach and would welcome any contributions towards paying the way for students. Fees that may seem small to Americans can be large obstacles for Kenyans seeking an education.

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For more information on how to help, contact Ngugi at robngugis2016@gmail.com or missionbsr@pceaheadoffice.org, or email the Secretary General of the PCEA, the Rev. Peter Kaniah, at revpkaniah@pcea.or.ke or info@pcea.or.ke.

Robyn Davis Sekula is a ruling elder at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is serving as Chair of the Board of Send a Cow US, which does agricultural and gender empowerment work in Africa, including Kenya. Robyn is a member of the Kenya Mission Network.


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