Students’ squeeze

2010-01-29 00:00

THE ability to accommodate all students who require housing remains a serious challenge for higher education institutions. But universities say they are doing all they can, with many having to outsource external residences in an attempt to close the gap.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) said it has enrolled about 38 000 students each year in the past three years. However, its facilities can only accommodate about 8 000 students.

This meant that the university had to begin a process late last year to secure external residences to accommodate students in order to cope with the demand this academic year.

Nomonde Mbadi, who is the executive director of corporate relations at UKZN, said that over the past few years, it has invested R179 million in student residences. Recently, R130 million financed an 885-bed residence at its Westville Campus, while R49 million was spent on a 220-bed residence for medical students on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

Mbadi said the university accommodates around 1 500 students off campus.

She said the university has also established a private accommodation unit, which has a list of private landlords in the areas around their five campuses.

The unit also serves as an advisory body to both students and landlords.

The Durban University of Technology (DUT) said accommodation in Durban is limited and it is difficult to source something suitable for students.

While the university said it may not be able to satisfy all accommodation requirements for its student population, Bhekani Dlamini, the acting communication manager, said the university tries to increase the number of beds available on a yearly basis.

But the onus is on the students to find their own accommodation, he said.

“In sourcing out external residences, DUT employs a very rigorous process that looks at a number of areas. All our residences are based in central Durban in close proximity to the university with 24-hour security.

“Free transport to and from the university is provided to residence students,” Dlamini said.

Mangosuthu University of Technology has decided to tackle the problem by allocating rooms per faculty.

That means if the engineering faculty, for instance, accounts for 40% of the student population, it will be entitled to 40% of student residence.

Sbongiseni Makhathini, the residence superintendent, said the system has been working well.

“On one hand we have a responsibility to create an environment conducive to learning, but the reality is we can’t keep up with the demand. We can’t afford it.”

A factor contributing to the draining of university funds has been sourcing outside residences, which Makhathini said has become burdensome in that universities are bound to a three-year lease regardless of whether enrolment is on the rise. They also have to make payments during holidays.

This is why they are grateful for an active student representative council that has encouraged students to consider the approach of private accommodation, which the university has agreed to facilitate, he said.

“We have introduced a pre-allocation system so that semester students can apply now for accommodation next semester.

“This will help them know early so that they have enough time to look for private accommodation. For the past years we have been housing 40% of our enrolment population. We are making arrangements to take on more, which will be approaching 50%.”

Makhathini said this and many other exciting initiatives like mentorship programmes will be introduced to help make the accommodation process smoother and help students make the most of their residence life.

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