The Sunday News
Sinokuthaba Dube, Sunday News Reporter
STUDENTS at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) in Bulawayo are resorting to squatting and engaging in campus marriages as rentals for students outside the campus have become the latest headache for many who are already burdened by the increase in fees.
A survey done by Sunday News showed that students’ accommodation rates in residential areas like Selbourne Park, Hillcrest and Matsheumhlophe near the campus were pegged between US$35 and US$40 per head per month. Accommodation for university students has been a major challenge and the rise in student population has led to challenges in availing on-campus accommodation. The university enrols between 8 000 and 9 000 students. Nust on campus residence now costs $1 500 per semester but can only accommodate 300 students.
Due to inadequate infrastructure, tertiary institutions in the country have found it difficult to accommodate students, which has seen a majority of them looking for alternative residences outside campus. Accommodation outside campus, however, comes with its own challenges. Following new fees increases, students are now forced to cut some costs by engaging in unorthodox means to survive. Students said they were failing to cope with the situation since landlords charge in foreign currency, forcing them to squat in order to share costs.
“This situation is now worse than before, rentals are now costly and our parents cannot afford such kind of money on a monthly basis so we end up negotiating with our colleagues to share a room without the knowledge of the landlord. Some of us end up engaging in immoral habits whereby we end up living with students of the opposite sex just to secure accommodation, we therefore request that Government builds more hostels equally affordable like on-campus rentals,” said a student on condition of anonymity.
In an interview, Nust Student Representative Council (SRC) president Mr Innocent Dombo said, however, the university has made strides in assisting off-campus students.
“We have been informed that the institution has resumed the construction of another boarding house just near the campus, the building will accommodate at least 500 students,” said Mr Dombo.
Nust students suggested that tertiary institutions should liaise with landlords and agree on figures that they charge. Students from other universities also shared the same sentiments. Midlands State University (MSU) in Gweru on campus accommodation costs at least $2 800 per semester but students residing in the nearby suburbs of Senga, Nehosho and Daylseford said they were paying between of US$30 and US$60 per month.
Students at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare staying on campus now pay $2 800 from $1 200 per semester, while those staying off-campus pay at most US$60 per month depending on facilities offered. Meanwhile, Great Zimbabwe University students in Masvingo said they are apprehensive of how things will unfold as they were about to open for the semester.
“We are very anxious about accommodation issues as most of us did not manage to secure places on campus and most of the houses outside campus often have electricity challenges and we end up forced to use firewood for cooking,” said a student.
Nonetheless, Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development Professor Amon Murwira said the Government Ministry was making significant strides in addressing challenges faced by students. He said Government re-introduced grants for students at State institutions, which were stopped several years ago due to non-repayment, to boost access to higher and tertiary education and empower people, especially the youths.
“Government is not in the business to make money but to provide education to the students. We are trying to make education accessible for all. We have controlled fees and trying to address accommodation so when it comes to food, students and parents or guardians should try and adjust their budgets,” he said.
Construction of an upmarket accommodation facility to house more than 1 000 students in Bulawayo by the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) started last year. IDBZ chief marketing and public relations officer Mrs Priscilla Zvobgo is on record as saying construction work of the infrastructure located near the Nust campus along Gwanda Road was progressing well and expected to be completed this year. The facility is designed for 1 032 students from various colleges in the city, occupying a total of 516 double rooms. Block B1 will have 252 double rooms for females. Block B2 will have 96 double rooms for males as well as Block B3, which will have 168 double rooms starting from the first floor upwards. Apart from the student rooms, the complex will have a restaurant and commercial facilities such as grocery shops, gym, banks and a pharmacy.
“The expected project completion date is 30 June 2020, with the operational dates set to be the first semester of 2021,” Mrs Zvobgo was quoted as saying in the media.