Saturday, 23rd September 2023

How underfunding, abuse mar master plans in universities, polytechnics

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
03 April 2023   |   5:07 am
With dwindling economy and growing number of student enrolment in tertiary institutions, many universities and polytechnics are distorting their master plans owing to poor project funding, which has led to confused development contents and patterns.

Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife, Osun State…one of the master plans that was reviewed

•Professionals not engaged as Directors of Physical Planning, say experts
•Allege existence of cartel in master plan-approving agency

With dwindling economy and growing number of student enrolment in tertiary institutions, many universities and polytechnics are distorting their master plans owing to poor project funding, which has led to confused development contents and patterns.

The development has also caused disputes between original landowners and universities, as many of the master plans were not implemented, thus, giving the impression that land was unduly taken from the locals and not used as planned.

The conflicts also result from appropriate compensation not being given to original settlers, thus, leading to agitations, especially when they find that after many years, a large proportion of land is yet to be utilised.

A master plan is a university or polytechnic document prepared by professional planners to serve as a dynamic long-term physical development guide for its future growth and improvement. It takes into consideration the connection between buildings, social settings, and their surrounding environments.

It includes analysis, recommendations and proposals for a site’s population, economy, housing, transportation, community facilities and land use. It is also based on public input, surveys, planning initiatives, existing development, physical characteristics, and social and economic conditions.

The Guardian also gathered that challenges arose from a good number of plans not prepared by professional town planners, and plans not prepared by professionals is bound to face contradictions in the process of conception and implementation such as conflicting land use and loss of logic in the phasing programme.

Planners spoken to said most of the master plans fall below professional standards and global best practices following engagement of unqualified or incompetent professionals in the preparation.

There are also poor financial commitment and budgetary allocation for master plan preparation leading to unsatisfactory deliverables and outcomes, as well as non-application of best campus planning principles and poor consideration for the natural planning environment and socio-economic profile of the plan’s majority end-users (students).

They also made case for review of master plans at intervals of five or 10 years, while initial parameters need to be re-assessed and measured against contemporary conditions. The planners say the non-review of plans renders them obsolete.

President, the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Nathaniel Atebije, said these challenges arise from the engagement of non-professionals to prepare and implement master plans, which eventually manifest in poor space requirement analysis, inadequate and incompetent manpower, low political will and poor funding.

“Many university schemes of service erroneously indicate that persons who are not professional physical planners are to be engaged as Directors of Physical Planning. This amounts to double jeopardy; as plans are directed by non-professional planners and not prepared or implemented by professionals,” he said.

According to Atebije, “there is a cartel in the agency coordinating preparation and approval of master plans that ensures that they must be the ones who prepare the plans or else it will not receive approval of National Universities Commission (NUC). I got this from a personal experience, while preparing master plan for one of the private universities. This is why almost all the master plans are like edited documents in language and structure.

“Poor space requirement analysis is also a major problem. Land is usually allocated to universities arbitrarily. For example, some universities have land in excess of 10,000 hectares, while if properly assessed, they cannot need more than 800 hectares for all their indoor and outdoor academic and social activities.

“Providing infrastructure in such an expansive area becomes a big budgetary challenge. In an era when scarcity of land is competing with the ever-increasing population, challenges abound; land should, therefore, be allocated to universities judiciously and economically to enhance its management.”

He stated that funding of projects in the master plans faces a lot of challenges in the dwindling economy, adding that many of them depend on allocations from government to fund their projects; their internally generated revenue is low in comparison with their needs, hence, it affects the implementation of their master plans.

In his submission, immediate past NITP President, Olutoyin Ayinde, said one of the challenges that some universities face with their master plans is that they are not implemented as designed and some even face major failure in structural implementation.

“There are master plans prepared by urban planners, but in setting up the Physical Planning Department of the universities, many or almost all exclude urban planners as Directors of Physical Planning, and some go to the extent of not having any urban planner in that department.

“Master plans are policy documents prepared to guide the physical development of human settlements and for special environments as you will find in academic communities like universities and polytechnics.

“Settlements are living organisms, which respond to various dynamics, movement, growth, processes and activities taking place on a daily basis. In view of the fact that these settlements are like living organisms, they experience changes over time, which the master plans ought to respond to through periodic reviews and adjustments.

“What that does is that it takes away that function that sees the whole campus as an entity that must function as a living organism, all parts working effectively. That’s the training of the urban planner. Unfortunately, that role is confused with Works or Physical Development Department, where concern is for individual units.

“In many cases, therefore, the plans are not well implemented. There is also lack of funding for implementation of master plans, especially for those campuses where large parcels of land were acquired and a proper implementation of the plan in phases was not prepared.”

Ayinde said there’s need to put the planning of university campuses in the right context as many decisions to establish universities have been political and acquisitions of land made not out of need but also political, “there is need to begin to rationalise the true needs, project the required land allocation and prepare the master plan.

“These campuses are specialised settlements, which are subject to growth and there is need for periodic review of plans to make relevant adjustments per time. This is why an urban planner will always be needed as Head of the Physical Planning Department, and this is not about seeking vacancies for town planners but that it is their calling.

A fellow of NITP, Barnabas Atiyaye, said some universities neither have the capacity nor will to fully implement plans, which leads to partial implementation, discontinuation or total abandonment.

“The implementation of master plans requires funding, which can be limited due to budget and financial constraints and some universities do not have the capacity to apply the use of technology in the implementation of plans due to insufficient engagement of skilled professionals or inability to install or operate useful technology systems.

“The leadership of some universities may not have political and intentional will required to pursue the implementation of master plans. Some universities do not adhere strictly to their master plans and deviate into the development of elaborate structures that may not have been part of the plan for political or other reasons.”

Atiyaye, who is the Managing Director, of Envicons Team Limited said non-engagement of town planners as Head of Works (or similar) Department gives rise to non-execution of master plans, “the professionals responsible for the implementation of the university master plans may not have the required competence or capacity to protect the plans and translate them to reality.”

He recommended that in the review of master plans, institutions should regularly collect environmental data on the university’s immediate and surrounding premises and socio-economic data, consult reputable town planning firms to conduct a comprehensive review of campus master plans, assess the level of implementation, gaps and challenges, successes, and recommendations for improvement to meet current realities.

There should also be an engagement with the university community (students, staff, and others) in master plan reviews to ensure they meet their needs and give them a sense of place within the environment.

He noted that the non- and protracted implementation of master plans is a significant factor in land disputes between indigenes or other parties (who may not necessarily be land owners) and universities. “It leaves land areas undeveloped, allowing such parties lay claim to the areas for agricultural, residential, or other uses.

“This is may be complicated by the manner in which some university lands were acquired – involving the procurement and merging of multiple private or community land parcels. Over time, when such acquired land remains undeveloped, their original owners may either gain interest in reclaiming them back due to their increased value over time or may continue to utilise the land pending future university development, ” he said.

He urged institutions to collaborate with local, state governments and community leaders to curtail encroachment, increase the pace of master plan implementation and bound their land area by perimeter fencing, tree planting, or other means.

They should also monitor the extent of their land area to spot encroachments early and control them before they expand, engage in public enlightenment of surrounding communities on the potential penalties for encroachment, as well as put vacant land areas to other uses such as agriculture through partial allocation to university staff or surrounding communities.

A past president of, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), Dr. Moses Ogunleye, however, believes that some master plans have outlived their usefulness as they were prepared many years ago, even four decades and never reviewed to integrate or accommodate new realities or development on campus.

He disclosed that some were inappropriately implemented to suit certain conditions, which are unprofessional and irrational.  “I was part of a team that designed a university campus plan. When I visited the university seven years after its took off,  I felt bad at the level of bastardisation. The main access or ceremonial road had its carriageway reduced and median removed. The lake created for environmental quality enhancement and preservation was abandoned,” he said.

According to Ogunleye, “Some universities such as University of Lagos revised or reviewed its master plan about five years ago, while Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) had its review over a dedace ago – first after almost 40 years of preparation.  When Lagos State University (LASU) had campus plan reviewed in 2006, encroachment by communities took over 80 per cent of the university site. the school had to negotiate with the communities to make them its tenants, as removing the huge number of buildings built illegally, would have created losses.

“By their conception, the universities tend to have large lands. Most universities have huge sites that take appropriate possession to be problematic.  The most effective way to do that is by fencing through walls. The cost is huge. When the boundaries are not properly delineated or demarcated, host communities claim ignorance, then there is encroachment, which often lead to dispute.”

He urged institutions to show commitment to their master plans and see them as major tools for advancement of learning. “A master plan has a potential to enhance a beautiful campus setting. Let the owners of the universities be ready to fund the various elements of the campus such as land use integration, infrastructure development like roads, water supply, power supply and environmental enhancement.  .

Atebije said: “When landowners observe that the value of their land has appreciated by virtue of the development of the university and the land has not been developed, they would want to encroach on the land or agitate to sell the land to higher bidders.”

He urged the institutions to lease out unused space to investors, who could develop some facilities along the boundary lines on Build Operate and Transfer model for a number of years that may be agreed upon. Such facilities could be hotels/guest houses, hostels, sports facilities, rental accommodation (real estate), mechanised agricultural practices. With these options, land will always be in active use and would thus wade off encroachments.

NITP President urged government to provide adequate funding, and sufficient and relevant manpower to prepare and direct the implementation of the masterplans. “The current intervention of TETFUND in various universities is laudable and commendable. NUC should review the current policy of all-comers-affair into the directorate of physical planning in universities because it is an exclusive reserve of town planners as provided in relevant statutes of the nation.

“The Directorate of Physical Planning must be differentiated from Works and even if they are to be led by one professional, it should be by professional town planners, because the visioner of the scope and spatial pattern of development of the campus is the town planner. Works only come in the process of implementation, which is the contribution of other professionals in the built environment.

“This understanding is gradually improving. Some universities recently have separated Director of Physical Planning from Works positions and appointed qualified town planners to head the Directorate. Definitely, there will be significant positive changes in the design and implementation of their campuses

Ayinde said: “If governments set up universities, then, they are duty bound to prepare their master plans and fund the implementation of the plans. It is important to note that some private universities have done excellently in this regard because they acquire adequate land for development and carry out implementation as against public universities that allocate in excess of what is needed and effectively make use of less than 10 per cent of the acquired area.”

He recommended that private sector could also be invited to participate in the development of campus master plans. “This would accelerate the implementation of plans and make the campuses more functional,” he added.

Atiyaye called for provision of funding for plan implementation and reviews, as well as review of NUC land area standards for universities downwards from the current minimum of 100 hectares, to reduce their planning and development obligations. He also made case for monitoring, control and enforcement of penalties against land encroachments.