The past six years have seen a rapid and steady growth of Universities, both local and International, within Nairobi’s Central Business District (NCBD).Virtually every Public University has a campus in the CBD.This is a trend that raises more questions than answers. The scramble for any available space by the universities has been evident even to the untrained eye. A case in point is the Posta Sacco building that was purchased by the K.E.M.U University for a staggering Kshs. 2.4 billion in 2009. It was alleged that the bidding process was so intense, that it had to be redone. Matters were not helped by the fact that, Proff Magoha, UoN Vice Chancellor had vowed not to see competition on his door step.Ofcourse he had to give in the end after he failed to convince the University senate as to why he was willing to expend Kshs. 4billion in the name of keep competition at bay.
Anyway that is beside the point. The elephant in the room is; what is the driving force behind this location behavior of Universities and what are its socioeconomic impacts. Conventionally world over educational land uses have set far away from the CBDs.This is mainly due to their large space requirement and need for a serene environment.
The rapid increase in demand for higher education seems to be the main cause for this trend. Statistics have it that the uptake for university students has risen from about 20,000 students in 1990 to 41,000 students in 2005.The increase in the number of people taking MBA’s can also be cited to contribute to this trend. Most Universities struggle to have a campus in the CBD because it affords ease of access and convenience and complimentary facilities and services. It also helps to note that The University of Nairobi has acted as the point of gravity as most of these universities surround it.
Some of the notable effects of this phenomenon have been the nature of businesses being set up and the change in lifestyle trends in the area. This area has arguably the highest density of Coffee houses, night clubs and even theatres.Some of the business that were located in the area have been forced to conform to the tastes and preferences of this student population. This includes changes in business names and even style of business.
Some of the negative effects of this budding University District have been; traffic congestion, noise and increase in rents which have led to increase in the cost of doing business.
My main concern in this unfolding event is whether this trend is optimal and sustainable. Whether this move by Universities is rational or not is a question best answered by time. However, I foresee a scenario where, due to lack of enough expansion space, there will be self destruction and chocking off of further development. This will be mainly through high rents and congestion.