Public-private plan mooted to tackle the HE housing crisis

Daniel Afolabi had a second hurdle to scale in getting hostel accommodation after securing admission to study law at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) during the 2021-22 academic year.

Within a few days of the institution’s portal being opened for registration, all available hostels on the campus had been fully occupied by students on a first-come-first-served basis. Afolabi and many other students were left with the options of squatting in the hostels or renting expensive apartments off-campus.

“I chose to squat in a friend’s hostel room because I didn’t have NGN350,000 (US$445) to rent a one-room apartment off-campus, compared to NGN25,000 (US$32) rent for a bed space on the campus,” Afolabi told University World News.

Afolabi said the hostel room was allocated to four students, but he and three other squatters joined the original occupants, thereby crowding the apartment and stretching the limited amenities in the facility.

“The hostel is crowded and many students share the few available toilets and kitchens. It is not conducive, but we just have to cope. Every student sleeps on a small-sized mattress … because of space. And, due to the room congestion and noisy atmosphere of the hostel, we go to lecture theatres late evening or at night to study,” he added.

Afolabi said that, though he was able to secure a bed space in the campus hostel in the current 2023 academic session, the overcrowding problem has not abated.

Ongoing crisis

Student housing has been a major crisis in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions for more than four decades when the student population started to outgrow the existing campus hostels, with a few new ones built to cater for the increased enrolment.

This is confirmed by research over time. A 2003 survey on ‘Hostel Accommodation Needs in Federal Universities’ carried out by the National Universities Commission (NUC), a body that regulates universities in Nigeria, revealed that only one of the 25 universities surveyed could provide 70% hostel accommodation for students, while the remaining 24 could provide only between 2% and 43% housing.

Fast forward to 2019 when the late Dr Maryam Sali, the then NUC director of accreditation, was quoted in the commission’s bulletin that a facilities inspection exercise carried out by the commission in selected universities in that year showed that “accommodation in public universities and-or facilities were either insufficient or non-existent,” adding that most of the facilities needed upgrading.

The NUC spokesperson, Haruna Lawal, has told University World News as part of the research on this article that, although the report of the latest housing survey conducted in 2022 is not yet ready for publication, “there are still acute shortages in student housing”.

The student experience

In the meantime, Quadri Shuaib, a third-year student at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, told University World News his hostel on the school’s main campus is as old as the institution established more than 40 years ago, noting that it requires major renovation.

“There are broken doors and some rooms no longer have ceilings. In the room I occupied [during the] last session [academic year], the ceilings were damaged by rain sometime in 2021 and it had not been fixed when we resumed for the 2022 session. The hostel fee is NGN15,090 (US$19.22) and affordable, but the hostels need to be renovated.

“Each room contains eight students who are legitimate occupants. But some students invite their friends, so 12 to 15 students end up living in a room. We have fans yet, when it is hot, the ventilation is not enough because the room is crowded. It is tougher when the fans are faulty and have not been fixed,” he said.

Shuaib said students experience outages for hours, particularly on occasions when the power distribution company interrupts supply due to a delay in the payment of electricity bills by the university.

“Water availability on campus depends on electricity. Whenever we don’t have electricity, we won’t be able to pump water into the hostel. Sometimes, students queue up on the taps for water in the morning. Some of us arrive late to classes or miss lectures,” he added.

Students have protested multiple times against poor hostel facilities and demanded better living conditions from school authorities.

For instance, in January 2022, protesting students at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, shut down the campus after the management failed to meet their demands for the renovation and fumigation of the hostels, and the provisioning of mosquito nets for students, Premium Times reported.

Medical students at UNILAG also rejected the school’s decision to limit power supply to the hostels to four hours daily, describing the move as inhuman and detrimental to a conducive learning environment, Punch reported.

The power rationing followed the students’ rejection of a hike in the monthly electricity bill they were told to pay. They also decried the decrepit state of their hostels’ toilets and bathrooms.

Dwindling quality of student housing

In addition to the NUC investigations, several studies have corroborated deficiencies in student housing in government-run tertiary institutions, which accommodate the highest number of students.

Using the Federal University of Technology, Akure in Ondo State as a case study research done in 2022 titled, ‘Quality of Students’ Accommodation in Nigeria’s Tertiary Institutions’ compared student housing on and off campus, adopting variables such as water quality, condition of hostel building and rent.

The study found that 24% of students residing on-campus had access to drinkable water, 58.3% to non-drinkable water, while 17.7 % had access to water used for cooking and laundry only. But 60% of students living off-campus had access to drinkable water, 20% to non-drinkable water while 20% had access to water used for cooking and laundry only.

“This is a call for government and [the] school management to make the health of students more important, especially to ensure more provision of drinkable water,” the study advised.

In on-campus hostels, the study revealed that 34.4% of students lived in a room with no cracks while 65.6% resided in a room with minor or major cracks. Off-campus, only 5% of students lived in rooms with minor cracks while 95% resided in apartments without cracks.

Individuals to the rescue

Wealthy individuals and alumni have made efforts to address student housing deficits in public higher institutions.

University World News has reported how alumni of some Nigerian universities funded infrastructural projects, including hostels, in their alma maters.

The University of Ibadan Alumni Association, for instance, built a 54-bedroom hostel worth NGN200 million for postgraduate students at the institution.

Aliko Dangote, the chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, also donated a 2,160-bed hostel worth NGN1.2 billion to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

The hostel comprises 10 blocks of 360 rooms each, Punch reported.

Dipo Fakorede, a builder and fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, canvassed for public-private partnership to solve the student housing crisis through a build, operate and transfer, or BOT, arrangement.

“With this, universities and private developers or investors will have an agreement. They [the developers] will build hostels in the universities and operate them for a number of years to recoup their investment and then transfer the ownership to the universities after the expiration of the agreement.

“The university authorities can control the rent the developers will charge. Of course, it may be more expensive than what is currently obtained, but it will still be a lot cheaper than the off-campus rent,” he said.

The NUC spokesperson, Lawal, agrees with Fakorede, saying the BOT arrangement is imperative in the light of paucity of funds for the government to upgrade and expand hostel facilities.

He said all the stakeholders – the government, private sector and parents – need to work together to resolve the problem, noting that accommodation fees in public universities are too low and not sustainable.

He said: “[The] BOT plan under a public-private partnership initiative is the way to go. The investors can build hostels, run them for 10 years and then transfer ownership to the university. Students in private universities are not facing accommodation problems because they pay much higher rent, which enables the school management to properly maintain the hostel facilities.

“If you need quality service, you have to pay. I’m not saying students in public universities should pay as much as those in the private institutions, but they should be ready to pay more than they currently do.”