In their court application, the students report a daily dangerous near-stampede as all those enrolled in the oversubscribed faculty jostle for space.
The court challenge was led by Sideny Mutale Nkole, claiming a violation of rights, from the failure or neglect to find enough learning spaces to accommodate the “huge number of students” the university had enrolled.
Nkole said every lecture presented risks of near stampedes – a situation that threatened students’ safety and health, and compromised the quality of legal training “which was a matter of public concern”.
He told of how students who could not find seats sat on the floor and others “stood helplessly” outside. Others just didn’t come to class. Nkole said with exams looming in June and July, and year-end examinations in November, students could fail “with dire consequences”.
University council registrar, Theresa Chalwe, in her affidavit, said the institution had seen an “unprecedented” enrollment of more than 8 000 students in the 2020/2021 academic year as a result of an initiative to grow student numbers.
Regarding the lack of lecture space, she said two state-of-the-art learning lecture theatres to manage the new numbers had been commissioned, and this year, another lecture theatre in another faculty would be given to the law school for use.
There were more plans to build more learning complexes and the institution had also introduced a “blended system of learning”, with lectures being conducted online.
The university also changed its admissions system from “first come first served”, to one based on merit which had led to a drastic reduction in admission numbers. Chalwe said the university was in control of managing and ensuring that students were being accommodated and that the application was misplaced.
In a recent ruling, High Court of Zambia judge Mwamba Chanda said in considering whether or not to grant an interim interdict in Nkole’s favour, the court had to consider the issue of sustained injustice.
“In as much as the measures put in place by the university to manage and control the learning environment in the school of law are commendable, they are still inadequate. This is because the available lecture theatres with the sitting capacity of 380 students cannot sufficiently accommodate the total number of 413 (now) registered second year students.
“In light of these findings, I am of the considered view that if the interim order is not granted, the concerned students are likely to suffer irreparable damages ... they will be ill-equipped to sit for their examination.
“Refusing the interim relief would prick the conscience of the court in that the best interests of children with regard to access to education will not be adequately safeguarded,” Judge Chanda said.
The issue was urgent and could result in injustice, she said, ordering that the university immediately provide the students with secure suitable learning spaces.
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