With the perennial accommodation menace in public universities getting worse each year, the Institute for Education Studies (IFEST) has called on government and management of the various universities to focus on investments in satellite campuses or distance education programmes to solve this ever-increasing challenge on campuses.
This academic year, the accommodation menace in almost all the public universities in the country has left scores of students, especially freshers, stranded due to their inability to secure bed-spaces in the traditional halls or hostel facilities on campus and its immediate surroundings.
According to Executive Director of the think-tank, Peter Anti Partey, although some universities have made efforts to provide hostels for their students, time has proved that these halls of residence are grossly inadequate for the teeming number of students in the institutions – hence the need to shift attention to decongesting the campuses via distance education.
“One of the surest ways to address the inadequate accommodation infrastructure challenge is to strengthen distance learning programmes and empower universities to run satellite campus programmes across the regions.
“As a nation, we need to learn that we cannot continue to deliver education on one campus; we need to decentralise it through the use of technology – and that is the best way to ensure students do not always move to campus,” he said.
Root cause of accommodation challenges
He attributed the origin of this current situation to a culture that embraced residential education as opposed to non-residential, right from the secondary level to tertiary. Unfortunately, as tertiary education enrolment statistics started recording considerable increase since 2005 to date, investment in infrastructure projects on the flipside has been very low.
“For the past five years, there has been increases of enrolment in terms of tertiary education; therefore escalating the institutions problem into a two-fold one – the challenge of providing academic infrastructure or teaching & learning facilities, and dealing with inadequate residential accommodation,” he said.
The solution to this situation, he said, will require a two-level intervention: investing in teaching and learning infrastructure on one hand, and on the other providing residential infrastructure.
Achieving this, he indicated, will mean dedicating almost all the education sector budget to tertiary education infrastructure – which is not available because Free Senior High School has taken the bulk, to the detriment of the others.
Distance education in the country
According to IFEST, the need for tertiary institutions in the country to start establishing and running satellite campuses was overdue as far back as 2017. However, only the university of Cape Coast (UCC) has been able to run distance education programmes across the various regions in the country, by leveraging on infrastructure of other institutions.
The establishment of satellite campuses in the various regions will mean that anyone who applies to the University of Ghana, for instance, will remain in the resident region and attend lectures from the nearest campus – and probably visit the main campus only occasionally. In such a situation there will be no need for struggles to secure accommodation on main campuses.
“Now, if you go to University of Cape Coast, they have distance learning campuses across the length and breadth of the country; giving opportunity for people to stay in their locality and still study with the institution,” he indicated.
He reiterated that by doing this across the length and breadth of the country, we will reduce the pressure on facilities of Legon Campus, KNUST in Kumasi, or University of Education, Winneba, among others.
Last year, for instance, UCC collaborated with Nduom School of Business and Technology (NSBT), Elimina – where some students of the school were using the facilities of NSBT but were students of UCC and will be awarded degrees by UCC. This initiative of the university the think-tank commended, and urged other public universities to try doing the same with private institutions in the country.
Tertiary education ratio
Improvement in the tertiary education enrolment ratio is very key for the development of every country. If you look at all the economies that are developing, it is because they have a high level tertiary enrolment ratio. We are not doing too well; we are currently around 18 percent and the Minister of Education indicated that they want to do 54 percent by 2024. But we cannot achieve that with the current level of infrastructure deficit in our tertiary institutions.
We need a lot of people to access tertiary education; we cannot continue to deny people access to tertiary education because of infrastructure.
Use of IGF
IFEST emphasised that management of the various universities are doing their best, but most of the funds they use to carry out some of these projects are from their internally generated funds (IGF) – which are not enough to finance all the challenges they are faced with.
“The universities can only do so much because they depend on their IGF to undertake some of these projects, and their IGF is not that much. In some cases, because government subventions come late, they depend on the IGF to pay staff.
“Again, you cannot compel the universities to reduce enrolment figures to meet the accommodation capacity; government is duty-bound to try and deal with this,” he emphasised.
He bemoaned the inability of government to plan ahead of time, reiterating that government knew that with the implementation of FSHS, for instance, increased enrolment at that level meant the same numbers would proceed to tertiary. And also others who completed secondary in the past and were gathering funds to further their education would join them. But as characteristic of the nation, plans were not made to expand the tertiary level infrastructure capacity to accommodate them.