Students go to class starving

01 March 2012 - 03:17 By CAIPHUS KGOSANA

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande yesterday painted a shocking picture of deprivation among university students, with young people attending class without having eaten for days and others living in appalling conditions.

Blade Nzimande. File photo.
Blade Nzimande. File photo.
Image: Mohau Mofokeng © Sowetan
Blade Nzimande. File photo.
Blade Nzimande. File photo.
Image: Mohau Mofokeng © Sowetan

Speaking in parliament, Nzimande said it would cost more than R147-billion to accommodate students adequately at universities across the country.

A report into students' living conditions, which was presented yesterday, said there was a shortage of 195000beds at university residences. This was expected to increase to 207000 too few beds next year.

Nzimande said he was deeply concerned by the finding that students were going days without a meal.

"Hungry students cannot be expected to fare well academically," he said.

"Hunger and poor nutrition are believed to affect attendance, concentration levels and, ultimately, academic levels, which in turn leads to high dropout rates.

"Students need access to and funding for proper meals," Nzimande said.

But eating facilities on campus were in short supply, with dining halls at only 41% of them.

Other startling statistics in the report are:

  • Conditions at some residences are so dire that students use bathrooms as kitchens;
  • Only 20% of students can find beds at residential universities;
  • Only 5% of first-year students have accommodation at universities; and
  • There is a severe shortage of suitable accommodation for students with disabilities.

The report said the average cost of providing accommodation for a student at a residence - including kitchen, ablution and lounge facilities - was estimated at R240000.

Nzimande said the estimation of the shortage of 195000 beds was based on provision of accommodation for 80% of full-time students on campuses where accommodation off campus was either not suitable or not available.

"The cost of overcoming this shortage is R147.37-billion . including escalation for building and increased intake growing at an average of 2% per annum."

Of the 535000 students enrolled at residential universities, only 107000 could be accommodated at these institutions.

University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg, who chaired the ministerial committee reviewing the provision of student housing, said one of the most appalling residences his team had visited was a former hostel for sugarcane workers that had been converted into a student housing unit for the University of Zululand.

"Conditions were appalling. On the occasion that the team was visiting this particular residence, the food had been moved to this campus from the main residence. It arrived cold and, from the impression we had . was rotten," Rensburg said.

At a private residence catering for the University of Venda, students were doing their laundry, cooking and even bathing in one filthy bathroom.

Nzimande said he was shocked to learn that only 5.3% of first-year students were accommodated in university residences.

His department would be encouraging universities to ensure that at least 40% of first years were provided accommodation, he said.

"It is easier to deliver special programmes for academic support when you know where your students reside," he said.

Disabled students were also not well catered for at many residences.

The commission found that some campuses had no accommodation suitable for students in wheelchairs, who require accessible buildings, rooms and bathrooms.

The department is in discussion with the Public Investment Corporation to provide about R8-billion in loans to universities to help fund the construction of new residences and the upgrading of existing ones.

The government has allocated R3.8-billion to universities, of which R847-million is earmarked for student housing.