Find innovative solutions to housing crisis, says AAU head

African universities need to be innovative to find sustainable ways to finance infrastructure projects on their campuses, as the lack of structures to support the admission of more students is denying many students who qualify the opportunity to enter tertiary education institutions, Professor Olusola Oyewole, the secretary general of the Association of African Universities (AAU), has told University World News.

In an interview, he admitted that, though there is awareness of the student housing problem, it is not one that the AAU has discussed with its members. University World News published a special report on 29 August focusing on the student housing crisis on the continent.

Oyewole said universities in Africa can follow the example of Ghana, where the government has set up the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund), and Nigeria, with the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), to support the building of infrastructure at the universities.

The GETFund was set up as a public trust in 2000 to support the provisioning of educational resources at all education levels and to all segments of the Ghanaian population.

Supplementary support

Since its inception, the fund, which is derived from a 2.5% tax on the public and is collected by the Ghana Revenue Authority, has supported the delivery of quality education from basic to tertiary level through funding policies aimed at ensuring the equitable provision of essential resources. It also provides scholarships to exceptional and needy students.

In the case of Nigeria’s TETFUND, it was originally established as the Education Trust Fund (ETF) by Act No 7 of 1993 as amended by Act No 40 of 1998 (now repealed and replaced with the Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act 2011).

It has become a vehicle that provides supplementary support to all levels of public tertiary institutions with the main objective of using funding alongside project management for the rehabilitation, restoration and consolidation of tertiary education in Nigeria.

The main source of income available to the fund is the 2% education tax paid from the assessable profit of companies registered in Nigeria. The Federal Inland Revenue Service assesses and collects the tax on behalf of the fund.

Public-private partnerships

Oyewole said student populations throughout the continent have increased and, therefore, the universities could also consider using public-private partnerships in the provisioning of accommodation or, for those universities with available land, which could be leased to private providers to build on and charge economical fees.

“Universities have also started feeling the challenges of high water, sanitation and other amenities’ costs, which are outside their control. Unfortunately, attempts to increase rates have been resisted by the students,” he said, adding that, “these are some of the problems that managers of our institutions are faced with daily and trying to find solutions to.”

Reacting to an initiative by the University of Ghana staff to finance the construction of hostel facilities on their campus with the Ghana Universities Staff Superannuation Scheme (GUSSS), Oyewole described this as “laudable”, but added: “There is the need to put in place a means to recover the cost.”

He said the use of the superannuation fund, which was set up by staff of the university towards their pensions, to finance the building of the hostel could be an alternative to going to the bank to fund an infrastructure project.

The first phase of the GUSSS project involves the construction of a four-storey block that will be completed in 12 months and is expected to provide 544 beds for students. When completed, the entire project will serve 4,160 students.

In order to meet the acute accommodation problems facing students, the university management has also started some projects to increase the stock of residential facilities available to students, including the 904-bed Africa Integras Hostel facility, being funded from the Infrastructural Development Fund, which is a pool of funds from the university’s internally generated funds; a 424-bed capacity block to expand a privately funded Bani Hostel’; and 60 studio apartments for PhD students.

Oyewole said universities must consider the provision of residential accommodation on their campuses for foreign students, who pay more than their local counterparts, as it is not easy for them to find accommodation outside the university.