South Africa’s shortage of over 200 000 student beds is one of the primary causes for the country’s high dropout rates and poor academic performance. Like healthcare and schooling, privatised student accommodation has become a lucrative business manifesting in suburban rental rooms, containers, converted office blocks, subdivided apartments and more recently purpose built high-rises. Ranging from outright slum lording to corporatized fortresses, student populations are treated as homogenous consumers, either left to their own devices or processed, controlled and isolated from society at large. This seems at odds with the expectations of a next generation of professionals to partake in and grow the economy, produce cutting-edge culture and course correct the trajectory of a floundering democracy. Thoughtful policies, effective management and student involvement in shaping progressive university culture can go a long way in meeting the needs of students beyond a bed.
The spatial planning and design of student housing plays a crucial role in supporting the well-being and ultimately the success of future generations of graduates.
Based on fifteen years of experience in the field of subsidised and affordable housing and the recently completed first phase of a student residence, we share some straightforward and practical strategies to stimulate a debate on what student housing can be, how beds can be delivered at a lower cost and how to add value beyond numbers.
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