Accommodation crisis at UKZN

2008-02-20 00:00

Yesterday’s front-page lead story told of the dire lack of residential accommodation for students on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Students reported that although the university management had promised them accommodation before they arrived a fortnight ago to begin the new academic year, this had not materialised for many of them. Those not able to squat in friends’ rooms or stay with nearby relatives or friends, are sleeping in public rooms on campus. It’s not difficult to imagine the effect of this uncertain, hand-to-mouth rough living on the emotional and intellectual wellbeing of the students concerned. Their studies will suffer and, if this state of affairs is prolonged, their futures could be jeopardised.

Of course, changing times have produced a greater demand for residential accommodation than hitherto. Student numbers have risen and as the proportion of the student body living at home in Pietermaritzburg and commuting to classes has dwindled, so increasing numbers are coming from farther away, including many from other African countries. Few of these students are affluent and most need affordable accommodation within easy reach of academic departments and the library.

The university, clamouring for “transformation”, eager to become thoroughly African, encouraged — indeed, insisted upon — these changes in students numbers and demographics. Why, then, did it not at the same time plan for them adequately and why did it not, as a matter of urgency, fund the building or purchase of the necessary residential accommodation? This lack of foresight reflects very badly on the university. Observers might be forgiven for thinking that those now running UKZN have become too arrogant and self-involved to bother with the physical and mental welfare of students — something of a mistake, if so, for without students a university cannot exist.

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