Zambia’s independence leader, Kenneth Kaunda, once said a university is the door to the future of the nation, -- and is at the forefront of the fight against poverty, ignorance, and disease. But chronic problems have clouded the promise of higher learning at many universities. From Lusaka, VOA reporter Sanday Chongo Kabange looks at one of the issues – the lack of accommodations.
The University of Zambia has about 8,000 full time students, but only 5,000 guaranteed beds for those who need rooms.
A typical room in a men’s university hostel, or dormitory, has two beds, while other, modified, rooms for female students can accommodate up to four students. These are called “big flats.”
But today, some of the rooms have more students than allowed. Others are putting up makeshift tents on hostel rooftops that they then use as alternative sleeping and study rooms.
ROOM AT THE TOP
Matilda Chipili is a second year student in the School of Education at the University of Zambia. Chipili says when she first enrolled she shared a room with her cousin and three others in the “big flat” but later decided to join others on the rooftops.
She says wanted more space and freedom and that anyway, she had no other accommodations.
However, university rules do not allow additional students – or even non-students -- to share rooms or put up makeshift tents on rooftops. So far, no one who has violated the rules has been punished.
But many students like Chipili say they are in dire need of campus accommodation because they come from outside Lusaka and have no relatives nearby and no resources to rent private rooms in nearby compounds.
Chilipi’s tent is one of many adding green and blue color to the tops of the five-story university hostels. Many of the tent dwellers have nothing but a mattress and cardboard boxes for their books and food. In one tent, a student has a tiny bottle of drinking water next to her sanitary pads.
Chipili is sharing a tent with two others, who say it’s a long walk to restrooms and showers, cafés and libraries.
The tent dwellers say they are constantly bothered by mosquitoes, lack of electricity and noise from the hostels beneath them at night.
She said, "It’s difficult really to concentrate on your studies when you have to think of where to sleep and prepare your food. This problem has been going on for a while and management is just making statements that they are going to construct new hostels but we have not seen anything tangible. Something needs to be done urgently."
"It’s even worse when you have to think about the rains. You can’t study at night because there is no electricity and no proper ventilation. This (pointing at her tent) is not even fit for human habitation."
In comparison, a two-person hostel rooms has a study table, a small table and wardrobe.
Students in the hostels use communal showers, toilets and a common room for their hostel recreation facilities, such as televisions and pool tables.
They often cook on electric burners or cookers. This became necessary after the university cafeteria was given to a private company that charges far too much for the average student.
Chipili says the issue of accommodation needs attention from all stakeholders, including the government, private sector and former students.
HOSTELS RECEIVE A FAILING GRADE
The University of Zambia Students Union, or UNZASU, has been talking with the ministry of education about the decaying standards of the hostels at the University of Zambia.
UNZASU president Sage Samuwika recently appealed to the state to consider expediting the construction of extra hostels at the university.
A former student at the University of Zambia and now a political opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, says the situation is worse than it was 21 years ago when he attended the university.
Then, Hichilema says, the rooms where used only for sleeping and studying and no food was prepared from hostels because all students had to get and eat their food in the cafeterias.
"University infrastructure’s state is actually... sad," he said. "If you go there now it’s a sore site. Students…they share. Four students, five students in one room. We must feel guilty. You and I and the rest of Zambians must feel guilty. We must deliver a change?"
BREAKING THE RULES
University of Zambia spokesperson Mulenga Musepa says over-enrollment has nothing to do with the acute shortage of accommodation. He says student admittance is based on lecture room capacity, and not on bed spaces.
He said the university does not guarantee a bed for every student, but because space is limited, accommodation is allocated on first come, first serve basis.
He said, “Some students are offered accommodation which is on campus; however, the number of bed spaces that we have is less than the number of students we have (staying) on campus and for those that are not accommodated find alternative accommodation.”
Musepa says the situation has gotten out of hand because students are violating campus regulations by accommodating extra students.
Musepa says a move is underway to construct new hostels but the process has been delayed because they are still waiting for the architectural drawings and finalizing the bids. He anticipates that if everything goes to plans, hostel construction will begin by August.
Early this year, Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa said his government is seeking funds from corporate institutions and private companies is needed to help with university funding shortages.