Bold solutions needed for student housing - Nzimande

Pretoria – Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, has called for bold solutions to tackle the challenges that South Africa is facing in providing housing for students in institutions of higher learning.

"We have been talking for a long time about the shortage of student housing. The solutions we devise today have to be big and bold, a match for the challenge we face to provide student housing that is affordable," Minister Nzimande said.

The Minister was speaking during the country's first ever student housing symposium on Thursday at the University of South Africa, in Pretoria.

The symposium, hosted by the department, was attended by Cabinet Ministers, university vice chancellors, property developers, students and organised labour representatives, as well as leaders of banking and development finance institutions.

Minister Nzimande said research into student housing at universities, by government in 2011, revealed a chilling view of the shortage of student housing at all the country's institutions of higher learning.

The study revealed that the entire university sector provided a mere 107 000 beds, with six or more applicants for every available place — resulting in an estimated overall bed shortage of 195 817.

The historically disadvantaged universities were reported to be the worst affected.

"The review showed us appalling pictures of students living in derelict buildings unfit for habitation, let alone for students who were expected to study and emerge as young graduates with the skills needed for employment and economic growth,” said Minister Nzimande.

The study also revealed that of the 583 000 students at the time, only 18% could be housed in university residences.

“It was shocking to discover that only 5% of first year students were housed in university residences. These are the most vulnerable young people in our system, away from home for the first time and expected to perform in a post-school environment very different to the schools where most of them matriculated," Minister Nzimande observed.

The study further projected that by 2016, the bed shortage at all universities stood at 216 000, and that by 2030 an extra 400 000 beds would be needed to meet the enrolment targets set out in the National Development Plan.

Another survey carried out by the department at the country's 50 public Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), last year, showed that for 710 000 college students, there were only 10 120 beds, meaning that the colleges could provide accommodation for only 1.4% students.

It was estimated that the country needed at least 100 000 student beds at TVET colleges to meet the immediate demand.

"We now have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw on. One clear lesson is that the challenge is big enough for all interested parties to participate in resolving it,” the Minister said.

The Minister added that this year they can implement projects with 15 000 new beds at the first 11 universities and TVET colleges, from the University of Venda to the University of the Western Cape.

"In the next six months, we will start projects with more beds than were built by the sector in the past three years. Moreover, we are committed to maintaining the momentum.

"Students, universities, TVET colleges, banks, investors, we need to come up with smarter solutions to solve this problem than the ones we have found working apart.

“In addition to what government is already doing, there must be a national consensus that one of the things that must definitely rise is a sustained Student Housing Infrastructure Programme, supported by both the public and private sectors," Minister Nzimande said.