Unam in Tiff over Breakfast

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By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK Recent student unrest over the compulsory breakfast introduced by the University of Namibia has incensed the Vice Chancellor who yesterday threatened to evict the ringleaders of the peaceful boycott from the hostel. A fuming Vice Chancellor Professor Lazarus Hangula was so irate that he named those he believes are behind the unrest that recently unsettled the institution of higher learning. In terms of the compulsory breakfast, a daily fee of N$12 per meal is levied on all hostel students irrespective of whether they eat the meal or not, with only a few exceptions. Over 800 students signed a petition objecting to the compulsory meal, introduced with the intention to make them more attentive during morning lessons, after some of them were reported to yawn loudly because they attended lectures on empty stomachs. Students are complaining that the compulsory meal would increase their annual hostel fees by several thousands of dollars and that management did not consult them. Sources on campus said a meeting scheduled between the Vice Chancellor and students’ representatives last week was aborted at the eleventh hour because the Vice Chancellor was not amused that students aired their grievances through the media. There are concerns the hostel fees deemed unaffordable by students coming from poor families are already compelling some female boarders to resort to prostitution, while male students could turn to criminal activities to offset the extra monetary burden. In a stern statement issued yesterday, Professor Hangula warned that the university “will not be held hostage by a small group of students who want to disrupt law and order on campus. To be accommodated in the university hostels is not a right but a privilege”. “Students who refuse to abide by hostel rules and regulations will be asked to give up their spaces for many others who are on the waiting lists. No student will be allowed to destabilise university activities including preventing others from entering the dining hall or through acts of intimidation. Those found blocking entrances would be dealt with accordingly,” he warned. He said students who persistently refuse to abide by hostel rules and regulations including boycotting breakfast “will be asked to vacate their rooms in favour of more deserving students on the waiting list with immediate effect”. He said Unam charges hostel students N$8 040 per annum including N$2 360 for breakfast, which compares favourably with other tertiary institutions such as the Polytechnic of Namibia whose annual hostel fees amount to about N$8 660 per year. Professor Hangula further said the hostel fees being charged by his institution are favourable even when compared to private primary schools that charge up to N$700 for pre-school tuition, while tuition for some private high schools in Namibia is even twice the fees that are being charged by the university. “With regard to meals, it is common practice in the region for universities to offer compulsory meals to students as most hostels such as the ones at Unam do not have self-catering facilities,” stated the Vice Chancellor, who also yesterday posted a similarly strongly worded circular at the campus. Sources say since Unam appears to have made up its mind, the only option they have is to appeal to the Namibia National Students Organisation (NANSO) to take up the issue with Unam’s management on their behalf. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a third-year student accused the Vice Chancellor of using strong-arm tactics and of trying to victimise individual students. Contrary to claims by Professor Hangula that consultations were held, students say this is not the case because the issue was only mentioned once at a Christmas party late last year and that at the time, no mention was made of an increment in the fees. Some students also feel it is unfair to make comparisons with the situation at the Polytechnic of Namibia because that institution apparently serves more appetising dishes. “It’s like we are being forced to eat. They should make it (the breakfast) optional,” said one student who felt some students might also not be able to write their examinations at the end of the year because of the extra hostel fees they say are unaffordable for some. Though students insist the introduction of compulsory breakfast is profit-driven, the institution says this was done primarily to make them more productive.

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