By our Staff Writer
When Simon N. Gicharu received a British Council scholarship to study entrepreneurship at Cranfield University, his mind formed a rosy picture of studies in England.
The year was 1995, five years after he had graduated from Kenyatta University.
But when he landed there, the experiences of some fellow African students in London shocked and inspired him at the same time.
He was appalled by the harsh life these students led, struggling to make ends meet thousands of miles away from home.
That grim picture disturbed him and he vowed to do something about it.
Gicharu, a gritty entrepreneur, resolved to help create learning opportunities for Africans on their own continent.
After completing his studies, he returned home, only to find that he was now jobless. His boss at Thika Technical Training Institute had sacked him because he (Gicharu) had proceeded to London without clearance.
This only strengthened his resolve to establish a college. His arduous journey to contribute to higher education, punctuated by obstacle after another, began.
It took him four long years – from 1996 to 2000 – to find his footing in the world of education entrepreneurship.
By the time he established Thika Institute of Technology (TIT), the precursor to Mount Kenya University, Gicharu had performed several entrepreneurial somersaults to survive in the business of providing education opportunities to young Kenyans.
Clearly, though, the entrepreneurial skills he acquired from Cranfield, the UK’s only exclusively postgraduate university, made a positive difference in his business.
Eight years after its establishment, TIT gave way to an even better idea: a university named Mount Kenya University (MKU). That was in 2008.
A year later, MKU decided to offer a Bachelor of Laws degree programme at its Nakuru Campus. And so, the journey to train lawyers kicked off.
In 2011, MKU received provisional accreditation for its Bachelor of Laws programme. Most universities operate with this accreditation.
However, MKU has sustained its quest for full accreditation, investing in diverse resources as directed by the Council of Legal Education (CLE).
After performing a series of audits, CLE was satisfied with MKU Parkland Law Campus’s status and proceeded to give it full accreditation on 30 July 2018.
“It has not been an easy journey,” Prof Gicharu declares.
By July this year, MKU had graduated more than 850 LLB students, adding onto the number of locally trained lawyers.
Just like Cranfield University, his postgraduate alma mater which exists to “unlock the potential of people and organisations,” Gicharu’s MKU has thrived and is helping in “unlocking infinite possibilities”.
During August celebrations of the full accreditation – so far achieved by only 11 universities in Kenya – Prof Gicharu explained why it was necessary to provide learning opportunities in the country.
He said that although students may study abroad if they choose, those who wish to learn in the country should have opportunities to do so.
Prof Gicharu reminded guests that MKU even bought a building in Nairobi on Moi Avenue, hoping that CLE would approve of the edifice and immediately grant the university full accreditation.
“I thought that that was everything. You can imagine having an expensive building and asking the university management to go to the Council for Legal Education for accreditation. I thought they would not even inspect it once they knew how much it cost the university. I thought they would just go there and come with the letter of full accreditation,” he said with a pinch of humour while explaining the seriousness and therefore the rigours of attaining full accreditation to train law.
CLE’s declaration that law training should only take place at a standalone campus located just a few kilometres from the central business district drove MKU to buy another building in Parklands. This building, which hosts only the MKU Parkland Law Campus, previously housed an entire university. MKU bought the building from the now defunct university.
MKU progressively invested in the necessary resources, including books, all in line with CLE demands.
Today, Prof Gicharu is happy that the university is providing opportunities for Africans to study for law degrees without leaving their continent.
He says it is important for African nations to fund higher education more and provide opportunities for their young people to unlock their talents.
That is why he would like to see MKU School of Law provide more opportunities for young people to study the programme of their choice. Those who want to become lawyers should not lack opportunities for study locally.
Prof Gicharu says law training “is the first programme” that has seen him “travel to England to source for books”.
Graduate Enterprise Academy
MKU, says Prof Gicharu, believes in honing the skills of young people so that they become job creators.
It is for this reason that the university, under his direction, established the Graduate Enterprise Academy (GEA) in 2014. This is a platform that further sharpens enterprising MKU graduands so that they can grow their businesses and employ many more people. The training is free.
The university created yet another vehicle through which it supports students. To date, the Mount Kenya University Foundation has offered scholarships to 100 bright but needy students.
More recently, the foundation began giving grants to student associations to spur young people into developing innovative ideas.
The overwhelming success of college start-ups such as Microsoft, Facebook, Dell, Google and Yahoo, inspired the university to engage with students differently. The university established a Sh3 million grant to promote innovation and creativity in clubs and professional student associations.
This move is informed by reputable authorities such as John Howkins in his book, “The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas”.
According to Howkins, innovation and creativity are today’s hallmark of economic development. Consequently, in tandem with its mission and vision, MKU is supporting professional student associations or clubs as potential breeding grounds of the country’s innovative and creative minds.
The foundation disbursed these grants last month to five associations with creative ideas.
MKU has graduated more than 80,000 students who are contributing to human development in various sectors across the world.
With full accreditation of its School of Law by CLE, the university looks forward to training many more lawyers.
Prof Gicharu’s success in founding and nurturing MKU to dizzying heights has won him accolades locally and internationally.
For his distinguished service to the nation and especially in the education sector, the Government of Kenya decorated him with Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (CBS) medal.
Uganda’s Gulu University awarded him a doctorate.
International University of Namibia feted him with a professorship.
Prof Gicharu was inducted into the 2012 Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of Year Hall of Fame. This was after he had emerged Entrepreneur of the Year for the East African region that year.