Nigeria: Deplorable Hostels in Tertiary Institutions

opinion

Current political activities in the country should not take the steam out of a reality that the state of hostels for students in our public tertiary institutions leaves much to be desired.

Polytechnics, colleges of education and the universities run hostels that keep students at subhuman levels in hostels. This is part of man's inhumanity to man.

In the universities managed by the federal and state governments, hostel provision is not a priority and students are invariably left to their own devices.

Some tertiary institutions run a no-accommodation policy. Students in these institutions are left to the whims and caprices of greedy landlords who build shacks in the name of accommodation. Indeed some are run like brothels, with little or no control measures by any regulatory bodies. This has been a tragedy ignored.

In a country where infrastructure is properly developed, our tertiary institutions should not worry about where students choose to live.

Conscientious school owners would then make arrangements for students to ease the burden of living and studying. But our nation suffers from a serious infrastructure deficit and this impacts on academic performance.

More often than not, students live in squalor with as many as ten or more students sometimes officially assigned to a room meant for no more than five. Some of these students then take on friends or schoolmates as 'squatters'.

In the urban universities, the situation is more precarious, even dangerous. The spaces available cannot accommodate the high number of students who are on mainstream programmes. Most universities over admit students. In the midst of acute scarcity, there is usually a serious challenge of racketeering and sale of space to the highest bidders by unscrupulous officials.

Thus, a facility meant for 15,000 students is compelled to accommodate 50,000. Apart from poor toilet facilities, the level of sanitation calls to question the capacity of our university managers to adequately meet the demands of the young minds placed in their care. Living in such squalor reduces the self-worth of our students and ultimately the quality of output as future leaders of society.

Time was when allocation of hostels was automatic for first and final year students. At that time, the universities ran hostels as part of social responsibility.

However, with the population explosion on the campuses this time-honoured welfare approach can no longer be honoured.

The federal universities are currently under a ban on building more hostels. This trouble began when the military governments saw students living together as a formidable army and never wanted them to live together.

Some of the existing hostels have been handed over to private hands. The private investors, which ought to come to the rescue of the universities, are not encouraged because university administrators are not always forthcoming. The victims are the young minds whom we hope would manage the nation's affairs in the future.

In a society where critical infrastructure is dependable, the universities would not make building and maintaining hostels a priority. But we live in a country where movement from one point to another is a challenge because of the absence of affordable intra-city modes of transportation, where there is a deep housing deficit and where power supply is always epileptic. Students who live off-campus are therefore left to suffer the failure of the state to make life bearable for the average citizen.

This is another source of stunted growth for young citizens. What this means is that future fathers are now eating sour grapes and there is no way their children's teeth will not be set on edge in future and so when the foundation of the young ones is destroyed from school age, what can the future hold for them?

There is no need to continue with lamentation syndrome on this anymore. The universities and polytechnics should put on their thinking cap. Their students are better served when they are relatively better accommodated.

In the city of Lagos, for example, commuting from far-flung places to the campuses robs the students the energy and time for reflective thinking and rumination on complex subjects. Compare our students who endure such hardship with their counterparts in universities, which have first class research and hostel facilities and the difference in output will be quite clear.

Besides, the universities should engage the private sector and provide comparable accommodation for students. Such wealthy patrons could also build research laboratories and classrooms. It is no rocket science. There are generous Nigerians out there who, with the proper information and motivation, will come to the aid of the universities. The hostels could be built on 'Build, Operate and Transfer' (BOT) basis. Using the framework of a Memorandum of Understanding, ownership could revert to the university after a mutually agreed timeframe.

Private developers should also build hostels around the university campuses as part of an overall strategy towards ameliorating the problems of students.

The Federal Government should lift the blanket ban on new hostels if the universities can develop hostels from their internally generated revenues.

The quality of minds being trained in the universities and other institutions of higher learning is a function of many variables. Classrooms, laboratories, transportation, feeding, lecture halls and the commitment of teaching staff are equally important to achieve the goals of a rounded education.

Apart from the quality of teaching and research they ought to have a sense of wellbeing where they live.

A demeaning environment would invariably lead to anti-social behaviour such as joining secret cults and embracing the false pleasures of hard drugs.

On the whole, the government should pay total attention to the education sector, ranging from funding to tuition fees, autonomy, revitalisation, curriculum review and infrastructure development.

This should instantly engage the attention of political office holders, representatives, business leaders and university administrators at all levels. It is an idea whose time has come and should not be wasted.

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