Government tackles student housing
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande says even addressing maintenance backlogs in student accommodation without adding new infrastructure will cost R4,4bn
Severe shortages of student accommodation in universities were compromising educational outcomes, but even addressing maintenance backlogs without adding new infrastructure would cost R4,4bn, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said yesterday.
Speaking at a briefing on a report reviewing student accommodation at 22 public residential universities, Mr Nzimande said a quarter of all residential infrastructure was either "unsatisfactory or in poor condition".
Major backlogs meant many students sought private accommodation and lived in "appalling conditions".
Based on the findings of the report, the cost of overcoming the shortage of quality accommodation would be R147bn over 15 years, Mr Nzimande said.
The report, compiled by University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Prof Ihron Rensburg, also made recommendations on minimum norms and standards, as well as allocation policies.
Residences accommodated only 20% of the current student enrolment of 535 433, but ideally this should be at least 50% at all universities and 80% at universities in impoverished areas, the report read.
The report estimated that the average cost to provide a single new bed was R240000, at 2010 prices. Defending the cost, Mr Nzimande said unconducive learning conditions and long commutes, particularly by students from impoverished backgrounds, were affecting performance.
The housing issue could have played a "large part" in the 40% failure rate of students receiving funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, he said. Research indicated that one year in residence "increases significantly" a student’s chance of completing their qualification on time, but only 5,3% of first-year students received a place in a university residence, he said.
Prof Rensburg warned that even if the necessary infrastructure was in place, the question of good governance at institutions remained. What had clearly emerged in the report was that there was "very little" long-term planning in institutions. The "situation is going to worsen" as demand increased, he said. The main growth would come from low-income, first-generation and primarily female students.
Mr Nzimande said his department had waited until now to table the report, which he received in September, in order to develop a "plan of action". The next two financial years would see R3,8bn allocated as an infrastructure and efficiency grant to universities, with R847m earmarked for student housing, he said.
But this "was not enough" and the department was engaging with the Public Investment Corporation to set up a fund that offered loans to institutions at preferential rates, he said.
Mr Nzimande said while the private sector was a "significant contributor and stakeholder" in accommodation, the unregulated nature of private-sector provision should be looked at, as exploitation of students was widespread.
Prof Rensburg said issues of private-sector accommodation extended to contracts that some universities had with private providers. In many cases there had been a "fundamental problem" with the way agreements were structured, transferring "all the risk" to the institution.