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Fri Oct 21 20:25:43 SAST 2016

Students turned into hobos

Poppy Louw and Shenaaz Jamal | 02 February, 2015 00:07
SLEEPING ROUGH: Wits University students protesting on campus. Countrywide, universities are facing an accommodation crunch, with many more students applying for residence rooms than are available. The Higher Education Department says it would cost R140-billion over the next 15 years to eradicate the problem
Image by: Alon Skuy

Wits university fourth-year law student Mbe Mbhele refers to himself as "a hustler".

The 22-year-old from KwaZulu-Natal left home for Johannesburg at the start of the month to arrange accommodation for himself for the academic year.

Today he will learn whether he qualifies to live at one of the university's student residences after squatting on campus since his arrival.

Mbhele and 10 other students have been working alongside the Students Representative council to help students find digs.

He said the shortage of student housing at the university had 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 Mbhele.

A survey by The Times of nine South African universities found:

  • 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.

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%."

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.

But private accommodation is not always suitable.

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.

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."


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