Close to 500 000 first year university students recently completed their final year exams, more than 50% of them will fail. The growth in demand for tertiary education globally, has outstripped the capacity of institutions of higher learning to cope. Twenty years ago, 80% of the total global student population was accommodated in residences, today with the dramatic increase of learners heading to university, this figure has dropped to less than 20%.
Students who do not get into residences have no option but to stay in off campus accommodation. At the less affluent universities, the living conditions for these students are dire. “It is not uncommon for as many as six students to share a tiny room. Accommodation is often far from campus and the areas where they can afford to stay are affected by lack of access to basic facilities, high crime rates and gangsterism,” says John Schooling, Director of the Student Accommodation Group (STAG African).
A first year student in good on-campus accommodation has an 80% chance of passing, this rate drops to as low as 40% if the student is not adequately accommodated by the university. South Africa’s throughput at universities (the percentage of graduates versus the total university’s population) is 18% against a global average of 25%. By changing nothing, other than providing good accommodation, throughput could increase to 23%.
These statistics only tell part of the story. “What happens when a young student arrives at university and she spends all of her energy just on surviving? She fails and with her failure, not only are her dreams shattered but the dreams of her family and even those of her community. The psychological impact of overcoming every hurdle to reach university and then failing through no fault of her own is devastating,” says Schooling.
A large university campus in South Africa can accommodate as many as 20 000 students – a very intimidating place for anyone on their first day and especially so for a student from a rural area or township. “Being one of 20 000 shatters the feeling of belonging, it is simply too big. This is the vital role that residences can play, other than providing a place to sleep, residences create a sense of community, a place of belonging. Well-designed residences happen not by accident, but with very careful planning,” says Schooling.
“Lack of accommodation at our universities and universities around the world is no ones fault. It has arisen because of a massive belief that a tertiary education is the key to a better future. The Department of Higher Education and Training is doing their level best under extremely difficult circumstances, but they simply do not have the resources to meet the demand,” says Schooling.
Between R44 and R58-billion is required to meet the current residence shortage. Within the next five years a further R102-billion will be required. “This amount can only be leveraged off the balance sheets and resources of pension funds and private sector companies. The cost of supplying the needed accommodation is huge, but the cost of not supplying it, is devastating,”
Over the past six years, STAG African has provided more than 1 055 beds to universities, FET Colleges and schools across the country. The property developers are currently working on a 240-bed residence at Walter Sisulu University’s Nelson Mandela Drive Campus in Mthatha and a 2 046-bed residence at the University of Fort Hare in Alice. They are currently negotiating a further 15 000 beds throughout South Africa.