Space is not the issue with accommodation at Wits: Habib

11 March 2019 - 10:06 By Nico Gous
Wits university.
Wits university.
Image: Supplied/Wits

The problem with accommodation near the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is not space, but costs and failing students.

That is what Wits VC Adam Habib said in a Twitter thread on Saturday.

He said there were 6,500 beds available while the demand stood at 14,000 students.

“There is enough supply in Bram (Braamfontein) if you add private providers, but the problem is their costs which many students cannot afford. So currently at Wits supply is not the issue, but money is.”

The Sunday Times and TimesLIVE reported in February about students caught in administrative limbo between Wits and the national student financial aid scheme (NSFas) as both were straining under the influx of students seeking free tertiary education.

This had left some students sleeping in laboratories and halls on campus and washing in public toilets.

Habib said they investigated these students and found they had lost their NSFAS bursaries because they repeatedly failed.

“This is why they cannot get private accommodation, even though there are beds in private facilities.”

Habib further explained that despite calls for free education, in most countries this meant free tuition, but not free accommodation.

“The only exception is Scandinavian countries where free education is inclusive of all. Even Germany and Mexico have only free tuition.”

Habib said SA went against the grain for NSFAS students.

“Given the scale of the poor, we do need to provide residences, but no university can resolve it, given resources. It has to be addressed by government either through its own resources or a partnership with the private sector.”

Habib said another problem was failing students.

“We need a discussion about repeated failures. Young people do make mistakes. But how many second chances do we give as a society? If students fail more than twice, should they not be excluded? Remember, for every student who fails, another student cannot get in. Is this fair?”

Habib is launching his book Rebels and Rage: Reflecting on #FeesMustFall at Love Books in Melville, Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Habib highlights in the book that universities also face:

  • Students who do not want to pay tuition;
  • Below-inflation increases in government subsidies; and
  • Employees demanding salary increases.

“This scenario is just not sustainable. If it persists, the fiscal stranglehold on universities will begin to undermine quality.”