Shortage of beds at universities

Wits students queue outside the accommodation offices. PHOTO: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

Msindisi Fengu

The government is planning to build at least 300 000 beds for universities and colleges in the next eight years, amid growing concerns about student accommodation shortages.

The department of higher education and training has estimated it would need a whopping R50bn to meet this demand.

In the past weeks, Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor approved a R1.1bn infrastructure and efficiency grant for 17 universities in 2017/18 to kick-start the construction of student residences where a target of 200 000 is for universities and 100 000 is for colleges by 2026.

Pandor’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the number of students who needed residences was higher for rural universities, where there was usually very little private accommodation close to campuses.

 “The same applies to rural campuses of urban universities. There may be plenty of private accommodation close to the urban campuses, but little in the vicinity of the rural campuses.”

North-West University (NWU), for example, had plenty of private student accommodation near its main campus in Potchefstroom, but hardly any extra beds close to its Mahikeng campus.

Ngqengelele said it was not government’s intention to fund this development alone, but would partner with development finance institutions and the private sector.

The department allocated R1.3bn to 16 universities for student housing projects in 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years.

For 2018/19 to 2020/21, it would allocate money once Pandor’s office had assessed and approved applications from universities. However, the department would need to increase the funding to at least R6.25bn per year for the next eight years to reach its R50bn budget projection.

Ngqengelele said the department had developed a macro infrastructure framework, which would require universities to develop detailed plans for all infrastructure development, including student housing, and also help other partners provide enough money for student housing projects.

He said universities in the country were never designed to accommodate large numbers of students in on-campus residences.

“The need arose through the opening up of access to public higher education post-1994, especially through enabling access for poor students using National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding.

“The public system has seen unprecedented growth in enrolment rates over the last 15 years. The only universities that were designed from the outset to accommodate large numbers of students are the two new universities opened in the 2014 academic year (the University of Mpumalanga in Mbombela and Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley).”

He said they had developed norms and standards for student housing projects to regulate the size of rooms, the type of fixtures and fittings and minimum services to be provided. These were published in the Government Gazette in 2015, as a first step towards ensuring that private landlords provided decent and affordable accommodation.

University of Fort Hare spokesperson Khotso Moabi said they had not calculated how many beds would be provided from their R122m grant funding.

“We acknowledge that there will always be a need for more beds. We currently require about 10 000 beds for Alice and 5 000 for East London. The rural set-up and slow development in Alice do not help the situation as we could not find extra space for students to rent.”

Walter Sisulu University spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said they would start building 700 beds from this year’s R100m grant. There would be 360 beds for the Mthatha campus and 340 for the Butterworth campus.

Ideally, the university wanted to provide accommodation for 80% of its 31 370 students, but due to constraints, it could only provide 5 292 beds on campus and 6 621 off campus.

University of Johannesburg spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said their R80m grant was for the Soweto campus student housing development plan.

In parallel, the institution was providing “collaborative funding” towards the project. This would provide 500 on-campus beds. The project was scheduled to commence mid-2018.

University of Free State spokesperson Lacea Loader said their R78m funding would provide 250 beds at the university’s South campus in Bloemfontein, to be completed in 2019.

This would increase the total number of beds on the South campus to 520 and the total number of beds across the three campuses to 5 942.

She said the university currently accommodated 15% of its students in residences on the campuses. Private off-campus accommodation-accredited suppliers collectively provided 3 122 beds.

Nelson Mandela University spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said the R50m grant, together with the university’s contributions and loan funding, would add 2 000 beds.

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said the university would build about 200 beds from their R45m grant allocation.

He said they received R65m in the previous year for the Mahikeng and R55m for the Vaal Triangle campus. They needed almost 10 000 beds to accommodate at least 50% of the enrolled students.

Jacobs said with the department and the Development Bank of SA, NWU was working on a financial plan to combine other funding sources to build additional accommodation on the Mahikeng campus.

This could add between 1 000 and 1 700 additional beds.

Other universities had not responded to requests for comment by the time going to print.

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