Being prepared for the worst is always one thing; confronting its stark actualization is another. There is a point at which the mind threatens to fold up, succumbing to its own destructive power of evocation – Soyinka.
University education undoubtedly is one of the few luxuries that no nation can afford to mess around with. The University is one of the focal tools necessary for development. It is also a repertoire of vast knowledge. Being the highest level of the educational ladder, it provides us with a lot of human resources. It is for this reason that every society, region or nation that wishes to develop must pay particular attention to its universities, both public and private.
One very pertinent issue worth putting on any discussion board, worth devoting air times to, worth been put on the front pages of our dailies and worth discussing in our homes is the issue of accommodation on our university campuses. The premier university, Legon has five original halls of residence; KNUST has six halls of residence. Since these halls of residence cannot accommodate the ever-increasing number of students, hostels have and are being built to augment that of the traditional halls.
It is all joy for parents to see their kids off as they embark on that spectacular journey to begin a university education, which to some extent is a luxury in our part of the world. However, parents and all stakeholders are recently becoming sceptical about the safety of their wards. This is in lieu of the tragic death of a promising young lady when a walkway of one the places of residence crushed her to a painful death. The untold and unanswered question of safety measures on our campuses therefore comes under scrutiny.
Bringing the traditional halls of residence of our public tertiary institutions under a microscopic view, a lot of questions arise. What safety measures have been put in place in times of emergency? What is the level of maintenance? Is there an active institution that occasionally or even regularly checks the strength and habitability of these buildings? What is the sanitation condition in these places of abode? Do students really get value for money? What mechanisms are in place to ensure maximum security?
Taking the security turn, a lot of questions are unanswered but must be answered as soon as applicable. How safe are our campuses from predators? The embossed taxi system in KNUST for instance is a very good initiative and has helped improve security on campus a lot, but we can still do better. Porters lodges which are meant to be strict checkpoint have now been metamorphosed into entertainment and business centres. We need to wake up. Computers at these Porter lodges which are meant to be used to check authenticity of users of the various facilities in the halls and hostels are either used in watching movies or serve as ‘dead’ decorations.
Another angle of tertiary accommodation that needs to be looked at is the springing up of hostels around our campuses. The presence of the hostels in itself no doubt is a good omen. However when the surface is scratched a bit, it reveals a very scary picture. The question of safety comes ticking louder. Other questions of responsibility, control, regulations and corporate responsibility come to mind.
Hostel rents are increased every year, sometimes so astronomically. Moreover, these increases do not come with any tangible change in facilities or living conditions. Are there any regulatory bodies that regulate the charges of these hostel owners? Are there institutions that seek to protect students from been exploited by these people? If there are any such institutions, why are they so dormant?
More so, the hostel business is booming, so every individual is turning any facility at all into a hostel. A visit to some of these facilities will show very life-threatening scenes and at times very appalling scenery. Hostels are now being built on water ways with total disregard. In the rush to provide accommodation for students, hostel managers no longer care about the safety or strength of their facilities. There is this particular hostel I visited, whose spiral-styled staircase is so small that a single person would have to squeeze himself when using it. Is this not so ridiculous? Do the necessary governmental agencies responsible for safety measures of such infrastructure ever conduct checks on them? Have these hostels been tested to see if they are safe for human habitation? Electrical works, plumbing works and other building concerns must be checked and corrected to avoid any disaster.
Sadly enough, despite all the huge profits being made by hostel operators, they have decided to shirk some very important corporate responsibilities. A walk through the Ayeduase community, which houses most of Kumasi’s hostel facilities, is an eyesore. When it rains, the roads and foot paths that link the various hostels is absolutely a no-go area. So is it not possible for hostel managers to come together, take token of their huge profits and at least dress up some of these roads? Will some of these initiatives not make our hostel communities more attractive and convenient? Will students not at least get a little value for the huge sums they pay?
The human resources of this country must be valued, preserved and protected. This is a clarion call to all stakeholders. Let us make sure the right things are done. A perilous situation waits ahead if we still believe in the proverbial ostrich as a role model. It is now or we will wake up tomorrow with our hands on our heads, repeating the infamous ‘Had i known’ chorus. Let us be proactive and build and sustain a responsible society.
NB: This article was originally published in the Daily Graphic.