Editor's Comment

Building more hostels answer to squatting

UNZA main campus administration block area.

EARLY this month, the University of Zambia (UNZA) announced the reopening of the institution, which had been closed for some months due to the cholera outbreak.
In a bid to make the learning environment more conducive and prevent any cholera outbreak at the institution, the university also announced a ban on squatting.
The authorities are concerned that with high levels of squatting, it is difficult to maintain high standards of sanitation and subsequently prevent cholera.
Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo is also not amused by some students who are taking advantage of the accommodation deficit to extort huge amounts of money from those without lodging.
Some students are asking for as much as K5,000 for squatting space.
This is too much for students who are struggling to pay tuition fees.
While the ban was well intended, it is clear that not much thought was given to the implications on those without accommodation.
That is why UNZA has temporarily reversed its decision on the ban.
Certainly, this is unavoidable considering the huge deficit of accommodation at the institution.
The UNZA infrastructure, including hostels, was initially meant to cater for about 4,000 students but today, the same facilities are catering for over 20,000 students.
A room, which was meant for two, is in worst circumstances housing eight students.
Under such circumstances, it is obvious that students can no longer use their rooms for quality studying and, therefore, only rely on the library which is also limited in capacity.
That certainly takes away from the students’ concentration as well as quality time for studying.
The situation is not only a health hazard but a serious negation on the quality of education and subsequently graduates.
It is an illusion for the university to expect to produce quality graduates under such conditions.
It is also not practical to ban squatting without providing adequate alternative accommodation.
While the university has no choice for now but to allow squatting, it is prudent for management to start pondering on long-term solutions.
We believe the solution to squatting is building more hostels and lecture rooms proportionate to the student population.
We are happy that the institution is working on implementing measures to ease student accommodation.
According to UNZA caretaker committee chairperson, Namucana Musiwa, the short-term measure will involve acquisition of bunk beds to increase the occupancy of each room from two to four students.
She said the medium–term measures involve the completion of ongoing construction of hostels with over 4,000 bed space capacity.
Ms Musiwa further said the long term measure will involve the construction of new student hostels, some of which are already being considered under the public-private partnership projects being pursued by the university.
While it is good that the university is working towards finding a solution to the student accommodation problem, we are taken aback as to why the situation was allowed to reach such alarming levels.
The university management should know better that increasing the number of students the institution enrols has a direct bearing on infrastructure dilapidation.
Despite knowing very well their limitation in terms of infrastructure, the university has continued enrolling huge numbers year-in year-out.
The university should consider reducing on their enrolment numbers as they work on building more hostels.
Logically, enrolment should be guided by the capacity of the institution, not demand.
For now, UNZA needs to find ways of eliminating the over 16,000 bed space deficit.
This requires huge financial resources and public-private partnership is certainly the way to go.
Given that the university has plenty land, it should partner with the private sector to build more hostels to match the current demand.
The university should further consider investing into other infrastructure such as lecture theatres, computer labs and libraries to match the student population.
This is the only way UNZA will maintain the status of the highest learning institution in the land.

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