Compulsory hostel accommodation on the campuses
While some academics welcomed the development, others doubted the viability of such a laudable project in this period of economic recession.
At a graduation ceremony at the federal University of Uyo in the Niger Delta, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by Okojie, announced that the government would soon pass a law mandating universities to provide accommodation for all students on all campuses.
In an interview with University World News Professor Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello, former acting vice-chancellor of Lagos State University, spoke her mind on the matter.
Taking a stroll down memory lane, she said the Ashby Commission had recommended that the federal University of Lagos start as non-residential campus when it was created in 1962. In 1984 the law setting up Lagos State University also created a non-residential institution.
There were two major reasons for this. First, university authorities felt that funds for building hostels should rather be spent on more faculties and equipping them. Second, houses around campuses were converted by private owners into student hostels. Thus the universities did not have to shoulder student accommodation responsibilities. .
Olatunji-Bello, an alumni of the University of Lagos, recalled that the councils of the two universities had later reconsidered the need for student hostels. “Realities on the ground dictated that the non-residential status be abandoned or modified.”
At the University of Lagos, most of the early students were from outside the city, “hence the urgent need to accommodate them on campus”.
At Lagos State University, a growing student population and cult activities created tense relations between students and landlords. This necessitated building hostels for females on campus. In 2011, a government white paper directed the university to be fully residential.
Olatunji-Bello supported Buhari’s initiative to gradually accommodate all students on campus, and elaborated its advantages.
Students’ grades could improve because they would have designated study spaces in halls of residence, which would also encourage the emergence of role models and peer study groups in an environment conducive to academic excellence.
For many students, university was the first taste of independence from parental control, and living on campus would create a supervised environment.
Further, living on campus broadened social networking and connected a diversity of students, encouraging friendships, and provided students with opportunities to develop skills outside the classroom such as interpersonal relationships, critical thinking, conflict resolution and communication.
Olatunji-Bello admitted that there were disadvantages, and they included the problems of bullying, of feeble-minded students who succumbed to peer pressure, and cults. But such matters could be prevented by strong security.
Many of her colleagues agree, but harbour concerns. “In the face of the country’s current dwindling economic fortunes, how can the government finance such a colossal project?” asked one of her colleagues.
Given the enormous costs involved, Olatunji-Bello suggested public-private partnerships in which developers would be given a mandate to build and manage hostels for set periods in order to achieve investment returns and avoid students – who are mostly from poor homes – being charged high rentals.
“The government needs only to provide the land and basic infrastructure like roads, water and security lights. This would immensely assist the management to focus on matters related strictly to academic excellence.”
There is another pedagogical angle to the issue.
“The notion of better and well-equipped graduates must be placed in its proper context,” said McNezer Fasehun, a Lagos lecturer, lawyer, journalist and poet, citing a character in Wole Soyinka’s play The Interpreters who declares that “a degree does not make a graduate”.
Does a mechanical engineer have to depend on a roadside mechanic to fix his car? Would the hostel system ensure an interface between home backgrounds and university? Could a new curriculum encourage mentoring, character formation and a career path?
Such questions must be considered, Fasehun argued, before talking of “better and well-equipped graduates”.