WHEN an institution of higher learning has about 3,000 bed spaces, and yet it accommodates 7,000 students, or even more, it is clear that there is a grave crisis in such a place. It is not only the quality of education that suffers, as learners ‘bump’ into each other trying to find some space to carry out their academic tasks, but the health of the students is also in danger.
The challenges regarding inadequate accommodation capacity at public universities in Zambia have been brought into the limelight once again, this time around by the cholera outbreak that the country is currently grappling with.
The threat that the epidemic poses against students has caused the University of Zambia (UNZA) and Copperbelt University (CBU) to remain closed while other learning institutions will open next week.
On Sunday, Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo said the two universities will only reopen when their managements adequately put in place measures that will end overcrowding in the campus hostels. No doubt, the practice, known as ‘squatting’ among students, is a recipe for outbreaks and the spread of communicable diseases such as cholera.
Professor Luo underscored the fact that universities and colleges usually have huge populations, hence there is need to ensure that measures are put in place to improve sanitation in these institutions.
It becomes even more worrisome, therefore, when two individuals who are officially accommodated by a university or college become ‘landlords’ and take in eight more people after making them pay some fee. This way, hostel facilities inevitably become unsanitary and a danger to all the occupants’ well-being. In fact, it’s like prison conditions are prevailing in tertiary institutions.
Overcrowding in those hostels entails putting too much pressure on the limited and inadequate amenities such as toilets, baths or showers, laundry facilities, sinks and common rooms, among others. Any time that a water crisis hits an institution of higher learning, the situation becomes worse.
This perennial problem of accommodation in colleges and universities that leads to overcrowding among learners can only be resolved if all stakeholders accelerate their efforts in putting up infrastructure in these institutions through public-private partnership programmes.
Hostel construction through partnerships between Government and the private sector should be done with a view to absorbing the growing demand for people seeking education. The country’s population is not as it was 30 years ago, so the number of students is increasing as well.
While it is good that Government has added public universities such as Mulungushi University to the already existing ones, and has upgraded colleges such as Kwame Nkrumah and Chalimbana to college-universities, there is need for the private sector to complement its efforts in building hostels in all these institutions.
Stakeholders in the education sector should be proud to be part of organisations and individuals that can truly offer a service to citizens through joining Government in ending crises regarding accommodation among students, even in ongoing projects such as the construction of Robert Makasa University in Chinsali, Muchinga Province.
Perhaps, while solutions that may take a little bit of time to be implemented are still being considered, boarding houses that offer accommodation to students can come in handy as long as authorities ensure they have all sanitary facilities.
Some learners whose homes are within the same towns or districts where colleges and universities are located do not necessarily need to be accommodated on campuses. Maybe, this way, besides quick repairs to damaged facilities such as toilets, among others on campuses, managements at UNZA, CBU and other tertiary institutions can be helped in tackling the problem that the ‘squatters’ have created in the few hostels available.