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Wednesday Feb 13, 2013

KZN universities to spend R1bn on student housing

KwaZulu-Natal's universities are to spend more than R1 billion on building new student housing over the next three years, and millions more on revamping existing infrastructure as they try to provide beds for at least 25 percent of their undergraduate and postgraduate enrolments.

Higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to meet the demand for accommodation, nearly a year after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande released a shock report on the shortage and the ramshackle state of student housing around the country.

Last week, the Durban University of Technology (DUT) was the site of the first of the accommodation-related student strikes of the new year which plague the country's campuses.

Nationally, there have been 39 such protests over the past five years, Nzimande's report says.

This year, 10 917 students will move into the University of KwaZulu-Natal's on-and-off campus residences - double the number of those housed by the University of Zululand (Unizul) and the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT).

UKZN registers up to 44 000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in an academic year.

UKZN was planning to build additional on-campus residences at a cost of R1bn, with a "significant portion" of the funding coming from its own coffers.

It received R80 million from the government towards infrastructure last year and budgeted R22m for repairs and refurbishment at its on-campus residences.

By December 2014, MUT's new R120m on-campus residence is expected to welcome 640 inhabitants, and the government has granted it R96m in funding for another 540-bed residence.

MUT accommodated 47 percent (4 761) of its students last year and is finalising the leases on additional off-campus lodgings to be able to house 52 percent of its students.

It spent R2m on revamping work last year, and R14m a year on transporting students between campus and its leased residences.

Unizul's current intake for on- and off-campus housing is 3 972 of its 15 170 undergraduate and postgraduate enrolments.

This year, it earmarked R3.7m for maintenance work, and R3.5m on beefing up its security.

According to the DUT's website, it has enough beds for a quarter of its students.

At the time of writing it had not yet responded to questions.

Students at DUT's Steve Biko, Ritson and ML Sultan campuses marched to the office of vice-chancellor Ahmed Bawa last week, complaining of a lack of funding and accommodation problems.

Students' representative council president Ayanda Ngidi said 400 students were still awaiting permanent accommodation and of these only 164 had been given temporary beds.

DUT said its residences were full. It received 5 300 applications a year, but had only 4 300 beds available.

"Many of the students did apply for accommodation but were unsuccessful.

"Some of the reasons could be not meeting the minimum academic requirement or, for example, the student's home is within the acceptable residential distance between the university and their home," it said.

Nzimande's report argued that the throughput of students living in university residences was "far better" than those who lived off-campus, given that for the majority of students their home environments were not conducive to learning.

Ideally, South African universities should provide beds for 50 percent to 80 percent of their students, which meant a current shortage of 207 800 beds.

Nzimande's report also said the maintenance and refurbishment backlog totalled R2.5bn, and described the state of some of the off-campus university leased buildings as "squalid".

Of the 104 440 students in university residences in 2010, 74 000 received financial aid, and by 2009, unpaid residence fees totalled R85m.

The Mercury

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