Students to have their say in accommodation

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cape Town – Student bodies at universities will soon get to comment on and make recommendations about norms and standards for student accommodation.

Department of Higher Education and Training chief director of financial planning and information systems, Shai Makgoba, on Wednesday assured the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training that student living conditions will improve.

This comes after Members of Parliament had expressed their dissatisfaction with the conditions under which students were living in university residences following a report by a Ministerial Committee.

Makgoba said: “I want to assure the committee that before the end of April, we’ll have gazetted norms and standards for comment. It’s a comprehensive process. We want to invite student organisations to also have their say.”

Acting portfolio committee chairperson, Nomalungelo Gina, welcomed the assurance, adding: “We hope and believe that we’ll see a great change.”

Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande appointed a Ministerial Committee on Student Housing at South African Universities in 2009.

Led by Professor Ihron Rensburg, Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, the Ministerial Committee sent a comprehensive 36-page questionnaire to 22 contact universities. This was followed up with visits to 49 campuses where student accommodation is provided.

According to lead researcher, Dr Ian L’Ange, at every university visited, the committee heard stories of students going hungry.

“Given the stigma of poverty, the committee is of the view that these stories are merely the tip of the iceberg... The state of affairs cannot be permitted to continue, and it should be the first and most urgent duty of every stakeholder in higher education to ensure that it does not,” the Ministerial Committee said in its report.

The Ministerial Committee also found that there was a national shortage of 198 815 beds at university residences.

The standard of private accommodation was also found to be squalid, with the Ministerial Committee reporting that students were exploited where they lived off campus.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that South Africa does not have any legislation governing student housing.

The Ministerial Committee recommended that a “wealth tax be explored as a way of increasing the access of disadvantaged students to universities; and that the National Student Fund of South Africa (NSFAS) residence fee for student board and lodging which met minimum standards (including a minimum of two balanced meals a day) be set at R30 500 for 2011”.

Other recommendations were that all first-year students must be accommodated in student residences; strategies must be developed to increase and support the access of poor and working class students to university residences; minimum standards for student housing and accommodation must be set; and public-private strategies must be explored, particularly in the metropolitan areas, to look at the feasibility of starting student villages.

Further recommendations were that complaints and allegations of maladministration, corruption and nepotism are rigorously investigated and that strict action be taken against offenders. Also, research should be done to explore the broad and complex relationship between student housing and academic success.

In its report, the Ministerial Committee said it had found that the maladministration of NFSAS funding for student accommodation at a number if universities was the direct cause of much suffering and hardship.

The Ministerial Committee also found that not a lot of research has been done in South Africa and the rest of the African continent into the subject of student housing. Across the world, most students lived at home, because the availability of on campus accommodation far outstripped demand.

In South Africa, the data garnered, showed that overall the majority of students living in university residences were African and female, the majority of them were from KwaZulu-Natal, followed by the Eastern Cape and countries that were part of the Southern African Development Community. –