Analysis: JUDITH KONAYUMA
PLANS by Government to increase bed spaces at higher institutions of learning are commendable.
For some time now, the lack of accommodation for students has been a pressing problem dodging universities and colleges.
Like a number of other institutions, there has not been massive infrastructure expansion of a number of institutions while they have increased enrolments.
Some of the learning institutions have taken on new programmes in an effort to be relevant. To cater for some of the extra students, some institutions keep themselves off the responsibility of providing accommodation, even though it is paid for.
This is one of the reasons that has led to congestion in the hostels of some universities and colleges.
I remember a situation at one institution in 1997 when there was what appeared to be a deliberate over-enrolment. The excess students were housed in a common room, with their luggage and mattresses on the floors.
Because the room was not a designated sleeping apartment, it was void of any accessories suitable for such use. The new studentsâ€™ suitcases, bags and mattresses were strewn on the floor, with only little space in between for the occupants to move from one part to the other.
To make matters worse, the luggage was perpetually packed for convenience and fear of losing their property owing to lack of storage space. The students appeared like stranded people waiting for help from somewhere.
Accommodation for students has since become an issue. Any learning institution should make it easy for students to access some services like libraries or study centres where students can find time alone to catch up with their studies or to prepare for examinations.
If students are off campus, they are bound to face inconveniences to access some of these facilities. Their studies may be adversely affected. I hope this is not one of the reasons we are seeing results plummeting in most institutions of learning.
While the mushrooming of boarding houses has come as a blessing for most students, their safety is compromised more than when they are on campus.
The safety of some students, especially females ones who find accommodation outside university or college campus, is bound to be compromised.
While the students are deemed to be adults, they may, for example, be attacked when they are coming from using a library in the campus.
But the lack of accommodation on campus is seen as an opportunity for other students to make money from their colleagues. There are instances when a student who has managed to secure accommodation will charge a fellow student for bed space.
Such an arrangement remains unknown to the school authorities but a desperate student may fall prey to the offer. After all, it calls for oneâ€™s ability to pay the other student.
Students who can make good use of bed space are indeed doing so and raising money while the university or college loses out. These are some of those who have found themselves privileged to have been given accommodation by the institution.
There are also some students who get accommodated but their homes are in the vicinity of the institution of learning while students who live outside town remain unaccommodated.
This presents an opportunity for a student who lives near the school to let out his bed space and opt to commute every day. The temptation to earn some money is greater than the comfort of living on campus.
It leaves one wondering on the criteria employed by the school or college in offering accommodation to students. But the more pertinent question is: Are the authorities aware of the subletting of their properties by the students? Is their interest only in ensuring that students enrolled by their institutions pass their examinations and another multitude of new students enter their campus?
For government-funded institutions, the lack of accommodation will continue to prevail due to their dependency on government coffers. While the implementation of the plan by Government will increase bed spaces, it will not totally eliminate the problem of lack of accommodation.
Institutions of learning need to collaborate with the private sector to help overcome this problem. Property developers should see this as an opportunity to invest in property and help alleviate accommodation shortages.
This close collaboration can guarantee accommodation to institutions as long as it remains in place for a long time. It can also be a source of revenue for both the property developers and the institutions of learning. Most institutions of learning have large portions of undeveloped land, which can be set aside for the construction of studentsâ€™ hostels.
The issue is to have studentsâ€™ accommodation as close to their campuses as possible. Our campuses do not operate shuttle buses to ferry students between their places of residence and their campuses, making some of them spend much time to get back and forth.
Working with property developers can be done in such a way that after an agreed time, ownership of the property is transferred to the institution of learning. The abundance of student accommodation will remove the secrecy that surrounds allocation of studentsâ€™ rooms and provide a conducive atmosphere for student learning.
The author is Sunday Mail editor.
Analysis: JUDITH KONAYUMA