The Legon Fees Saga
Students come face to face with authorities; VC apologizes to students but accuses some students of "cruel acts"; Students appeal for "amnesty" for sacked colleagues
AS A step towards finding a solution to the myriad of problems that have bedeviled the country's premier University, the University of Ghana, Legon, students and the authorities came face to face at a forum last Thursday evening, to deliberate on matters of mutual interest.
The occasion provided the desired opportunity to the students to make known the numerous problems confronting them and for the authorities to offer explanation to a number of issues often raised by students.
Paramount among the concerns of the students at the forum was the controversy that had surrounded the fees for the current academic year, particularly the ¢300,000 charged as Information Technology (IT) fee with the purpose of providing computer education for all students.
The students questioned the rationale behind the compulsion in the payment of the fee since some of them were already computer literate. They also wondered how and when the computer programme was possibly going to begin since the semester was already seven weeks old and nothing had started on the computer training.
Congestion at the various lecture halls was another issue that the authorities were asked to explain.
The Chronicle can report that these days, most students have to get seated, sometimes, two hours before a lecture in order to secure seats. In most cases, students who get to their lecture venues 15 minutes to the lecture time, have to be on their feet that is even when they are lucky to find space inside the room, for the one or two hour lecture period. If there is no standing space students go through the ordeal of standing outside and peep through the windows to participate in the lecture.
The situation in the lecture halls usually compels some lecturers to stop teaching sometimes 30 to 40 minutes before the scheduled time. This happens because students normally complain of being tired after barely an hour of standing or sitting compactly and also for sitting for hours before the lecture in order to secure seats.
Against this background, students questioned at the forum whether the authorities were aware of the situation at the lecture halls and the impact that it had on their academic performance.
" In fact, I wonder whether the Vice Chancellor has been going round the lecture halls to see the suffering that we are going through. I hope that if the authorities were to be aware of the situation, something would have been done by now," a student said.
A third year Computer Science student also revealed that the situation at the Computer Science Department was nothing to write home about. He said the whole department had only eight computers and wondered whether the institution was serious with the current trend of IT.
" While we are told that the university wanted to make every student computer literate, conditions at the computer science department still remain very poor. Even the computer training centers in my village are better than the computer science department of the whole premier university of Ghana. So I want to find out what steps are being taken to ensure that the department is well resourced," the student asked.
The current worsening accommodation situation on the campus of the institution was not left out in the concerns of the students. A number of them suggested to the authorities to arrange with private developers to build more hostels on the university land so as to at least, minimize the current difficulties encountered by students in securing accommodation.
For now, The Chronicle can confirm that there are between six and ten students in rooms at the halls of residence which were originally meant for two students, a condition that many have described as a recipe for disaster should there be any outbreak of an epidemic.
Some students at the forum also complained about "the archaic method of registration" at the university.
It was disclosed that during the registration for the present academic year in August, students were subjected to difficulties that sometimes made some of them sleep at registration centers till the following day. The students asked for the adoption of a computer registration process that would ensure that registration was done at one point as was being currently practiced by other universities in the country, to replace the current one which was characterized by movements to and from different sections of the university.
Responding to the concerns raised by the students, the Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof. Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, apologized to the students for the inadequacies in the registration process that might have subjected them to undue hardships in this year's registration. He pledged that measures would be put in place to ensure a smooth sailing registration the next time round.
He explained that this year's registration difficulties were compounded by the strike action that was embarked upon by the members of the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) and the Federation of University Senior Staff Association (FUSSAG), which coincided with the period of registration.
On the issue of the congestion in the lecture halls and the accommodation problem, the VC assured the students that several infrastructure developments were going on at the university and expressed the hope that within the next few months, the problems would be greatly minimized.
" The Ghana Commercial Bank is sponsoring the building of a big lecture/ examination hall and similar buildings are being put up at different sections of the campus. Fortunately, all these new buildings have facilities that would assist the physically challenged get into them with ease. So very soon most of these buildings would be put into use to minimize the current problems that you are facing," the VC assured the students.
On the controversial ¢300,000 computer fee, Prof. Asenso-Okyere, assured the students that everything possible was being done to ensure the effective commencement of the programme. He explained that the programme could not have started just after the payment of the money since the university could not afford to buy the needed number of computers without the collection of the fee.
The VC conceded that the conditions at the Computer Science Department were not the best. He described it as an apology of a department and noted that he had personally adopted the department to ensure that it got the necessary support to improve the conditions there.
Students ceased the opportunity to make a special appeal to the VC and his lieutenants to consider granting " amnesty" to two students of the Commonwealth Hall who were dismissed last academic year for misbehavior.
The two students were implicated in what became popularly called, " operation fetch and pour" during which a number of students from the commonwealth hall besieged the residence of the VC, fetched and poured water in the house and allegedly destroyed water storage thanks in protest against the shortage of water in the hall for days.
Responding to the request of the students, Prof. Asenso-Okyere advised the students to consult the document on the school's rules and regulation and find out how they could make a proper petition on the issue since the informal request was not consistent with the rules of the institution.
The students had wanted the punishment meted out to the two students to be reviewed to rustication instead of the dismissal since according to them the two might have had enough psychological pain which would compel them to be of good behavior if they were re admitted.
Prof. Asenso-Okyere revealed at the forum that information reaching him indicated that some students were engaged in the " cruel practice of bed selling."
" I have information that some of you have been selling your beds at very exorbitant prices after paying the ¢640,000 approved fee. I hear some of you sell the inner rooms to your colleagues at ¢6 million after paying the same approved fee. How can you be so cruel?" he asked.
He warned that any student who was found have sold a bed would be summarily dismissed from the university.