An opportunity to have university education is supposed to be an exciting moment but for many freshmen, that could also be a moment of frustration and anxiety, as they are thrust into a worrying situation even before they settle down to the new phase of life.
This is because, like the biblical son of man, some of them would have nowhere to lay their heads while on campus. Gaining admission to any of the public universities in may be easier these days, but having accommodation as part of the admission arrangement is not.
In recent times, improved performances from students and the introduction of the free senior high school (FSHS) policy have tripled the number of applicants which has also impacted on the number of applicants who successfully gain admission.
With the varied programmes they offer, the University of Ghana (UG) Legon, University of Cape Coast (UCC) and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) are often the first choice of majority of students.
Though the accommodation available does not commensurate with the numbers for the successful freshmen admitted each year, the KNUST and UCC have by and large, managed the situation efficiently such that accommodation for first-year students is not an issue. Even if it were, it did not leave students and parents frustrated, compared to what pertained at the UG.
For instance, the KNUST and UCC have since 2013 implemented the in-out-out-out system where freshmen are offered accommodation on admission, but subsequently from Level 200, they are required to make their own accommodation arrangements with the hostel facilities within and in neighbouring communities.
These arrangements have contributed to greatly minimize accommodation challenges in these two universities for first-year students, but their colleagues who opt to be at the nation’s premier university in Accra have no such comfort.
In-Out-Out-Out policy does magic for KNUST
As part of the in-out-out-out policy, the traditional halls of residence at KNUST are strictly reserved for only first-year students, reports Emmanuel Baah.
Aside from the university’s six traditional halls on campus, which accommodate an estimated number of 10,000 students, assigned on first come, first served basis, there are over 480 private hostels off campus that are working closely with the university, which has very much helped to resolve the issue of inadequate students’ accommodation.
For instance, this year, the KNUST admitted 15,000 freshmen and after placing 10,000 in the traditional halls, the 5,000 found accommodation at the partner hostels.
“We are expecting 15,000 fresh students. So once 10,000 of them are accommodated on campus, there are available hostels for the remaining 5,000”, Dr Noris Bekoe, the University Relations Officer (URO), told this reporter in an interview on Friday January 20, 2023.
“As we speak, even managers of some of our private hostels have been complaining to us [University] that they have not gotten the full capacity of their hostels”, he emphasised.
Dr Bekoe said all those hostels were on a common online platform known as KNUST Off-Campus Students' Accommodation Support System(KOSASS), which prospective students were accessing via https://kosass.knust.edu.gh
Also, to help students prepare adequately, the university shared the locations and the rate of the various hostels and the number of occupants per room to enable them to make informed decisions.
“So far, no student has complained of his or her inability to access accommodation”, he said, and that aside from the online platform, a desk has also been created at the University’s administration block to assist students who failed to log onto the online portal so they can secure accommodation.
The accommodation fee at the hostels, either public or private, were in four categories: A,B,C, and D, and the rates ranged from GHC 2000 to GHC 4,500, depending on the category and one’s preference.
For those who secure accommodation off the university campus, “shuttle services have also been made available to convey students who live outside campus to their various faculties on a daily basis with the Tech Junction being the pickup point ”, Dr Bekoe assured, emphasising that the safety, comfort and security of students, particularly, freshmen who were getting used to their new environment, were the university’s utmost priority.
No issues at UCC
Also running an in-out-out-out accommodation policy in favour of first year-students is the UCC, which does not experience the issue of long queues of frustrated students reported on other campuses.
Shirley Asiedu-Addo reports that some first-year students of the university were full of commendation for the university for arrangements to provide first years with accommodation on campus.
They also commended management for the smooth processes in the allocation of rooms.
Several students the Daily Graphic spoke to said they were happy not to have struggled with accommodation, adding that arrangements made and the processes made to ensure they were placed in halls were less stressful.
A fresh student, Gloria Aba Bentum, of the VALCO Hall said nobody took any illegal money from her at the hall.
“Everything is alright with the accommodation. There were no struggles with getting accommodation. Nobody took monies from me, it was cool,” she said.
Another student, Lordina Arthur, of the Kwame Nkrumah Hall said the accommodation was just fine. The rooms are not too big but I am happy I did not have to worry much over accommodation.
Others indicated that apart from a few electrical works and some carpentry works that had to be done on the rooms, all was fine.
“We went through smooth processes and we were given the keys to our rooms,” a student of Adehye Hall stated.
Joyce Akua Blay, who is at the Supernaution Hostel, said she opted for the hostel and she liked clean state of the facility.
Christabel Adarkwah of the VALCO Hall also said: “Accommodation here is not bad at all. I am happy I didn’t have to go through so much stress getting accommodation.
The Director, Public Affairs of the university, Major Kofi Baah Bentum (retd), in an interview, said the carefully crafted in-out-out-out accommodation policy of the university was to give priority to the first-year students who were often not familiar with the terrain.
“Not until the freshers get accommodation, continuing students cannot, that is the policy,” he stated.
All continuing students must leave the halls of residence for the freshmen.
He said the continuing students were aware of this and usually made arrangements even before school vacated for hostels in nearby communities and on campus.
He however stated that some freshmen who did not get into the halls of residence were given prior information and made arrangements for alternative accommodation after accepting admissions on those terms.
“Some who fell within the late admissions and who could not be offered accommodation at the halls of residence were told and they accepted admissions with that in mind,” Major (retd) Bentum explained.
Chaos at Legon
For students of UG, there is no such comfort or preferential treatment as over 6,000 freshmen out of the 16,000 admitted, have been left on their own to secure accommodation either through trying to apply for rooms online for the traditional halls or queue at the various hostels in a bid to secure a room.
Some of the students who spoke to the Daily Graphic expressed dismay about the situation, wondering why the country’s premier university had not been able to find a solution to this challenge that comes up every year.
A Bachelor of Arts student who gave her name as Elizabeth said she was on campus to complete her manual registration after she was unable to secure a room on the portal.
“I came here to finish my manual registration processes because I have accepted that I won’t get into any hall. From the moment it was opened, the portal kept telling me it was full.
I don’t even know what to do now, I’ll just try to rent around somewhere, I just hope I can afford it,” she said.
Another fresher, Mavis, said the entire process was daunting and psychologically stressful.
“I have been roaming since morning trying to figure out what is going on. In less than five minutes the portal said rooms were full. I cannot be coming from home every day,” she lamented.
After the closure of the portal for accommodation placement, hundreds of students who were unsuccessful also went to Evandy Hostels, hoping to secure a room as an alternative to avoid the stress of securing one through the portal, but most of them were left disappointed as it ended up being a venture for ‘’protocol where parents arrived in their big vehicles, jumped the queue and in no time, secured rooms for their wards,’’ a group of freshmen told the Daily Graphic.
Lectures have begun and there are still students who have not had their accommodation challenge resolved and have to commute to lectures from home for now.
More students, fewer rooms
The Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, in charge of Academic and Student Affairs, Professor Gordon A Awandare, admitted there was very little the university could do immediately to resolve the challenge, though there were plans to improve upon the situation going forward.
“We were only able to upload about 1,500 rooms, but there are 16,000 students trying to get accommodation so that’s why within five minutes it’s full. There is no trick there, it is just the pressure.
“It is a problem that bothers us and we are working very hard to resolve it,” he stated.
On plans to resolve the problem, Prof. Awandare said the university had embarked on many hostel projects and had also given land leases to investors to build private hostels
“There’s one the university itself is completing which we thought would be ready by now, but it is not, hopefully next academic year.
“Also, our GUSS, which is our Retirement Fund, is about to build a hostel. Managers are still going through the procurement process to get a contractor to start working on it and that will also augment the accommodation on campus,” he said.
Additionally, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor said the university had annexed a private hostel near the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) which will bring on board 650 beds.
New policy, no solution
Though a new policy has been introduced by the University of Ghana management, it seems it is rather to deal with rising incidents of violent clashes among some students, rather than resolving the accommodation challenge for freshmen.
The University Council on December 12, 2022, decided to implement the recommendations from the Residence Board and the Academic Board regarding changes to student residence arrangements.
It said those changes were requested by the council following repeated incidences of violence involving students.
The measures, which took effect from the start of the 2022/2023 academic year, are to prevent future occurrences of violence.
These include all continuing students of Commonwealth Hall and continuing male students of Mensah Sarbah Hall not returning to these halls, or to any of the traditional halls.
Also from the 2022/2023 academic year, only Level 100 and graduate students (Master’s and PhD level) will be assigned to Mensah Sarbah and Commonwealth Halls and subsequently, undergraduate students will vacate the halls at the end of Level 100 and could secure accommodation in the private hostels from Level 200 until completion.
For Level 100 students who opt for traditional halls, they will be randomly assigned to the halls and progressively, all the traditional halls (Mensah Sarbah, Commonwealth, Volta, Legon and Akuafo halls) will be reserved for Level 100 and graduate students only, culminating into a full in-out-out-out policy by 2025/2026.
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