Private student accommodation providers do not know whether they will attract enough students to their buildings, as the 2021 academic calendar is starting a month later than usual.

Private student accommodation providers have begun the year uncertain whether they will get enough tenants as the academic calendar will start a month later than usual, on March 8, and institutions of higher learning move teaching online.

South Point and Campus Africa are two of the biggest private student accommodation providers in Braamfontein. Campus Africa has four buildings that can accommodate 1 000 students, while South Point has 14 buildings which can accommodate 5 800 students. The majority of their tenants are students from Wits University and Rosebank College.

Both Campus Africa and South Point expect students to sign 10-month leases, covering February to November. This is normally in line with the higher education institutions’ academic calendar. They have not changed these even though most students will only move in on March 1.

South Point management told Wits Vuvuzela in a statement that they have seen an increase in the volume of enquiries for accommodation from students, but this has not necessarily translated into more students applying for accommodation this year.

“It is still early to validate actual year-on-year application numbers, [but] South Point has seen increased volumes of enquiries into accommodation for the 2021 academic year,” the statement said, and added that, as a result, “We’ve had to increase the size of all our call centres as well as our online support staff.”

Managing partner at Campus Africa, Jeremy Berman, told Wits Vuvuzela that they have not seen an increase in applications “as many students are not back and the first-year students do not have their results as yet”.

Both Campus Africa and South Point would not say whether their buildings will operate at 100% capacity this year. Instead, South Point management told Wits Vuvuzela that, “It is not only about the numbers; rather it’s also about how the numbers [at our buildings] are managed. Above all, South Point takes the good health of its staff and residents very seriously. [However], over the years South Point has traditionally enjoyed relatively high occupancy rates.”

Berman from Campus Africa, on the other hand, said their buildings “will be operating at capacities, [in line] with covid-19 guidelines”.

However, there are no clear guidelines in the re-adjusted lockdown level three regulations that state the preferred occupancy level that student accommodation providers need to adhere to.  The department of higher education, science and technology issued regulations in May 2020 that was directed at university residences which were not binding to private accommodation providers. The directives stated that, “Under level three, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to residences on condition that they can be safely accommodated.”

Berman said that 2020 had taught the company a lot about the pandemic. “We are now familiar [with] what actions to take should there be a covid-19 outbreak in one of our residences. We have also made provisions for covid-19 isolation rooms in all our residences.” 

Abonga Majola (18), a second-year accounting science student at Wits, told Wits Vuvuzela that she would have preferred to stay at a university residence this year but because she did not receive a residence offer, private accommodation became her only option.

Majola, who will be living at one of the South Point buildings in Braamfontein, said that she is most anxious about the increased exposure to the virus.

“The biometric system obviously exposes us to the virus because everyone is touching the same thing, but since we will be studying online, I don’t think I will be leaving my room that often. But, I still expect the building to be safe and cautious of the virus,” she said.

FEATURED IMAGE: South Point central offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Photo: File