Access to suitable and affordable student accommodation located in close proximity to places of study is a struggle thousands of South African tertiary education students are having to deal with. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) chairperson, Ernest Khosa, has revealed the long-term goals the organisation has for the improvement of student housing.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, millions of South Africans that previously did not have this opportunity, have been able to enter the Post School Education and Training (PSET) sector. While NSFAS acknowledges that this is a great step in the right direction for the country, our institutions have not been built to handle such a large influx of students so soon post-apartheid.
The majority of our public universities do not have the capacity to provide housing for the high demand of students coming in each year. This leaves thousands of students no choice but to seek accommodation elsewhere. Students will typically have to find private service providers and stay in off-campus private accommodation, where building owners and landlords commonly overcharge students, especially NSFAS-funded students, where they are aware that the government is paying for them.
In popular student areas, such as Cape Town and Rondebosch, owners have been asking students for R9,000 a month, double the monthly amount provided by NSFAS for accommodation.
Khosa condemns the fact that students get accepted into university, but must then "fend for themselves" when they arrive as they have no place to stay. He feels that students should not have to interact with real estate, but rather that they should have accommodation on arrival.
At the beginning of the year, NSFAS imposed a R45,000 accommodation cap, which supplies funded students with roughly R4,500 to spend on rent per month. However, because of the outrageous amounts landlords are asking for, some students have not been able to afford accommodation.
This sparked countrywide protests when thousands of students were left homeless. NSFAS claims that these students have since been placed in suitable housing, but this is not an issue that will disappear overnight, mainly due to the large increase in students applying to higher education institutions each year.
Khosa states that student housing needs to meet appropriate criteria. These buildings need to be safe and secure, relatively quiet and have suitable facilities that are conducive to studying, such as desks and working lights. This is why NSFAS wants to be able to monitor the quality of student housing across the country.
The Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector is of particular concern as there is close to no available accommodation for students, as the majority of TVET colleges do not provide any housing options for their students.
In an interview with PowerFM on Friday morning, the NSFAS chairperson gave some insight into what the organisation is planning to do to deal with this issue in the future. Khosa mentioned the introduction of off-take agreements, where NSFAS wants accommodation providers to house funded students. This is will be done through a NSFAS student accommodation portal where accommodation providers can register their housing for students. Thus far, NSFAS has received over 1,400 applications from private providers.
The ultimate goal for the bursary scheme is for all student accommodation to be state-owned or university-owned. This way, the institutions will have full control over student housing, making it more accessible for students. This allows the prices and the standards of these facilities to be closely monitored and regulated where necessary.
Khosa did not provide a date by which these targets are to be met, although the accommodation portal is up and running and 3,000 additional beds were provided by NSFAS at the end of last month.