By Odiss Rainbow, Katanga Alumini .
The university is the pinnacle of education and undoubtedly every student’s dream destination. Over the years a lot of private universities have sprung up to augment and cater for the large numbers of eager students who the traditional public universities are unable to admit. One major feature of the older public universities in Ghana is the presence of single sex halls of residence. Although the number of mixed-sex halls far outnumber the single-sex ones, the later inarguably have more prominence than the former.
This is similar to what transpires at the Senior High School level. Female-only halls like Volta and Africa seek to support the fight for gender parity and women empowerment; an agenda that a governmental and non-governmental organisations are also pursuing. Their male counterparts who prefer to be recognized as superpowers of the respective universities they are situated in, may have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. However, the significance of these male halls are deeply rooted in students’ activism and the protection of students rights.
For so many years now, these male halls have stood up and played roles that expectedly should have and should primarily be played by the various Student Representative Councils. In times when the SRCs have woefully failed students or pushed their tails between their legs when pertinent issues concerning students had popped up, these male halls always stood up to the authorities and pushed for policies that were in the interest of students. Honestly, they have been able to hold the forts despite all the intimidations, victimization and all other kinds of power plays from the authorities that be.
Some years ago, residents of Commonwealth hall stood against an infamous residential policy introduced by the University of Ghana authorities. Actions led by KATANGA led to the establishment of a special students’ clinic to serve as first point of call for students of KNUST. When authorities decided to license just a handful of taxi to serve a student population of over 20,000 then, it was the voice of KATANGA that went up again before more commercial vehicles were licensed. When a questionable price was put on neck ties and scarves and students were compulsorily billed with it, the SRC was mute. It was once again the Fellows of the University Hall who stood up against the deliberate robbery of students. A lot of issues can be listed in this regard. It is for no reason that authorities in universities where these male halls are present, are always up in arms against these halls. Admittedly, the senseless clashes for supremacy and some other not so pleasant acts of vandalism are not behaviours that should be encouraged or tolerated in any civilized institution of learning. However, stopping these acts is not the only reason the universities authorities are always at the war front with Katanga, Unity, Casford and Commonwealth halls. The other and perhaps more pertinent reason which is always masked is to weaken students’ front and silence their voices.
Currently, the authorities at KNUST are marshalling all the powers and resources they can to convert both University Hall and Unity Hall into mixed halls. This is not the very first time a university authority has threatened to do that, but this may be the first time a Vice Chancellor is really bent on carrying out this dream of all his predecessors. One would have thought the issue of students’ vandalism would have been the fulcrum of this rather audacious move. Surprisingly however, the major official reason the university authorities give for this action is their agenda of increasing female intake in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Amazingly, the best way the university wants to handle the anticipated increase in female population and a desire to house as many of them as possible on campus due to increasing security concerns at the outskirts of the university is to convert traditional male halls into mixed ones.
If one should even believe the expected catapulting of female population on campus, is converting these two male halls into mixed ones the best way to deal with the accommodation and security problems that has bedeviled students for years now? Since the completion of Unity hall over 40 years ago, not a single hall of residence has been fully built by the university to accommodate students. These has resulted in most students living off campus in surrounding communities where they are milked dry by hostel owners and landlords. These students are also vulnerable to consistent attacks by criminals.
It is very interesting to note that aside the traditional halls and the SRC hostel, the only other undergraduate residential facilities on campus for students are majorly owned by an association called Ghana University Staff Superannuation Scheme (G.U.S.S.S). By the way, these GUSSS hostels are among the most expensive around, probably because of their proximity to the faculty area. One other interesting twist to this hydra-headed issue is that a seventh hall of residence was started by the late Prof Andam’s administration. For years after his tenure ended, the building of that hall ceased. Then it was rumoured to have been leased to this same GUSSS and was completed in record time and is currently managed as part of GUSSS facilities and not an affordable traditional hall.
With this brief history, one can see no concrete effort has been made all these years to ease the issue of accommodation on campus for students despite the ever increasing number of students admitted every year. The very famous residence- related policy that has been running for years now and which has been a bed of roses of a sort for the authorities is the IN-OUT-OUT-OUT residential policy that makes entitles a student to campus accommodation for just the first of his or her four or more years of academic journey. This is the same policy the university is ready to break today in their unbending resolve to convert both University Hall and Unity hall into mixed ones.
Thus, if truly the university authorities are really concerned about accommodating more students on campus and ensuring their safety, robust and more vociferous efforts at building halls of residence would have been and should be activated. The energy and efforts being used to convert male hall into mixed-ones should be properly channeled into finding a lasting solution to the accommodation headache of students. Facilities like the Jubilee mall were built in record time through public-private partnership. The University can equally explore this in tackling accommodation and security concerns of students.
The conversion of male halls therefore, if it is frankly to cater for the deliberate intake of more female students on campus is tantamount to covering a never healing puss oozing wound with sand and pretending that the wound is healed.
Should the KNUST authorities succeed in this quest of theirs, it would mean the total collapse of a strong students’ front in West Africa’s premier Science and Technology university. It will consequently not be surprising that repressive policies will be introduced without any challenge and the rights and interests of students will be grossly and freely abusive and ignored respectively. This is the more reason why students affiliated to other halls and other universities nationwide must come together to support both Katanga and Unity hall in their quest to stop this unpopular and deceptive move by the KNUST authorities.
A strong students front, powered by the presence of these male halls will push the university authorities in finding lasting solutions to the accommodation canker and better security measures to ensure the safety of both students residing on campus and outside campus. As we put our shoulders to the wheel to make sure this policy doesn’t see the light of day, let us also remind and admonish ourselves. The bouts of bloody rivalry clashes should be a thing of the past. Senseless vandalism should be nipped in the bud and more progressive efforts that make the period of studentship enjoyable to everyone should rather be pursued. As the motto of the Katanga says, we will REST NOT in making sure students of KNUST and Ghana are not short-changed.
The Legend Lives On!