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Universities battle to meet accommodation demands for ever-rising student population



Various universities around South Africa are battling with accommodation shortages for the ever- increasing students demands. The Department of Higher Education and Training estimates that, there is a 200 000 bed backlog at national tertiary institutions. The situation seems to be looming for many universities and it has left students infuriated that they have resorted to protests in some institutes.

Most institutes have resorted to making use of off-campus accommodation which experts have labelled as not ideal. SA Students' Congress President, Ntuthuko Makhombothi said, "Students need to be brought closer to campuses to allow them to access facilities such as the library, laboratories and Wi-Fi."

John Schooling, managing director of student accommodation group Stag African, said solving the accommodation problem would help many students through university.  "The likelihood of students passing first year is increased from 60% to 80% if they stay in residence. The global tertiary pass rate is 25%. In South Africa it's 18%. By improving accommodation we can improve our pass rate to 23%."

In the last five years, universities and off-campus housing establishments have increased capacity by more than 15000 beds.
Various universities have tried to bridge the gap by implementing various strategies.

  •     Construction of a 200-bed residence at Stellenbosch University began last Monday.
  •    The University of Cape Town's Obz Square opened in January 2012 for 880 students.
  •     University of KwaZulu-Natal spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said plans to build more on-campus residences were "afoot".
  •     Lacea Loader, University of the Free State spokesman, said the institution had built five new residences.
  •     In 2011, the University of Johannesburg increased its accommodation capacity by 712 when it opened two new residences.
  •     Construction of a 300-bed residence at its Soweto campus began in May, and will be completed this year.
  •    A student village is being built at the University of Fort Hare campus in the Eastern Cape, to accommodate 2046 students. The university has also transformed its dining halls into residences.
  •    At the Eastern Cape's Walter Sisulu University, a R40-million residence will be completed this month.
  •     In addition three University of Pretoria residences opened their doors last month.

The shortage of student housing at Wits University is believed to have reached a "critical" point and that, some students go without proper accommodation for up to a year."Students are forced to become sophisticated hobos. Even though they attend one of the country's top universities, many go without proper housing," said one student.

A survey of nine South African universities found that:
•    There are only 68419 spaces for the 140000 residence applications for 2015 countrywide.
•    Wits received 34000 applications; it can accommodate 6000 students;
•    The University of Cape Town received 21469 applications; it can accommodate 6600;
•    Stellenbosch University received 13600 accommodation applications; it can accommodate 6200;
•    University of Johannesburg had to turn down more than 13000 applications for accommodation;
•    The University of the Free State received over 10000 applications; it can accommodate 5361 students;
•    The University of Pretoria can accommodate 9470 of its 49000 students on campus; and
•    The University of KwaZulu-Natal is one of the few institutions that can almost meet the demand for accommodation. It will house 12088 of 12727 applicants.

A Higher Education and Training Department report in 2013 showed that only 5% of first-year students lived in residences. Often, students have to resort to private accommodation, which costs between R20000 and R50000 a year.

Tuks spokesman Nicolize Mulder said that the university had recently cancelled lease agreements with landlords in "high-risk" neighbourhoods.

UJ off-campus accommodation head Basil Mugwena said his unit was established in 2009 after numerous complaints by students in off-campus housing.

Diane Parker, Higher Education and Training's acting deputy director-general of university education, said that eliminating the national backlog of 200000 residence beds would cost an estimated R140-billion over the next 15 years.

"The biggest problem is at historically disadvantaged institutions, at which there is a high proportion of rural students who need accommodation. Off-campus accommodation at most of these universities is poor," Parker said.



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