Varsities run out of housing

Several universities are struggling to find sufficient residence accommodation for their students and are now conceding that the situation has reached crisis levels.

They are appealing to the Department of Higher Education for assistance, as they believe this problem affects students’ academic performance.

South Africa has experienced a boom in higher education, with more than 74 0000 students now studying at universities.

Last year, former education minister Naledi Pandor told higher learning that R3,2-billion was earmarked for 2010/11 to 2011/12 for projects that will achieve national social and economic development goals. About 20% would be allocated to student housing.

The ministry said: “Inadequate student housing remains an obstacle to equity of access in higher education. Funding will support the creation of quality student housing, particularly at historically disadvantaged institutions in rural areas. Improved quality of student accommodation can help improve student success rates and eventual graduation rates.”

While student housing projects are in the pipeline, a recent discussion forum comprising deans of students from universities in Gauteng, Limpopo and North West has highlighted that residence accommodation is “raising serious concerns”.

Led by the Foundation of Tertiary Institutions of the Northern Metropolis (Fotim), the forum said universities need “support, advice and assistance in planning where students are going to live”.

“We want universities to be very clear about student accommodation. We want the government to be aware of this challenge, which most universities seem to be facing,” Fotim director Dr Zodwa Magwenzi told higher learning.

She said the high rate of student failures and increasing first-year dropout rates were worsened by the lack of student accommodation.

“It is thus important, especially for first-year students, to stay at residences in order to avoid this and for the purposes of proper orientation.”

The forum indicated that students have had to find alternative places to live. This results in problems such as:

  • Students having to access private accommodation and becoming targets of crime;

  • “Slumlords” are renting out dilapidated buildings to “slumdog” students who pay exorbitant rent;

  • Landlords taking money from students and abandon the building, leaving students stranded without essential services; and

  • Long waiting lists causing students to hesitate and find alternative accommodation, resulting in them being stranded.

While the University of Limpopo denied that some of its students had been staying in converted water tanks, investigations by higher learning reveal that some students are subletting rooms at the University of Venda (Univen).

“Of course students sublet their rooms and there is no single room or double room housing the required number of students per room — there are always two or three more students in one room,” said Univen SRC president Sylvester Motadi.

He said conditions at the recently built prefabricated student lodgings are “appalling”, because the structures are weak and pose a safety hazard.

“It is difficult walking in those buildings without feeling scared,” he said. However, students are confident the university leadership will address the matter.

Univen spokesperson Takalani Dzaga acknowledged that student housing had reached crisis levels but denied that students were sub-letting their residences, explaining that the university has an electronic control system that regulates access.

Dzaga said modular structures had been built to ease the accommodation burden as a short-term solution.

The university can accommodate only 2 036 students in its residences. This year it admitted an extra 2 266 students, bringing the total to 11 201.

University of the Western Cape spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said the institution could accommodate only about 4 000 students at residences out of a total of 16 000. “We are in the process of increasing our capacity to meet the [high] demand for residences,” he said.

South African Student Congress president Mawethu Rune said: “Institutions can’t continue with this attitude of only being concerned with teaching and learning — they should also be concerned about the conditions in which students live as this impacts on student performance. There is a serious student accommodation problem in the country but students are not receiving the necessary support [from universities and government].”

The Department of Higher Education confirmed there is a severe shortage of student housing.

“The department will be implementing a new, larger student housing programme during the 2010 and 2011 academic years,” Mfanafuthi Sithebe, a department spokesperson, said.

“This has to be seen in the context of the high capital costs involved in providing student housing on a university campus. For example, a standard residence with a capacity of 200 students in double rooms is expected to cost at least R30-million in 2010.”

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