Applying early for admission and accommodation is the best strategy for prospective tertiary students 

Earlier on in the year, protests erupted at various higher learning institutions including Wits University with students demanding institutions to provide accommodation for all students. 

This followed the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSfas) introducing a R45 000 accommodation funding cap this year. According to NSfas news the accommodation allowance cap was introduced to manage the unregulated costs of student housing and prevent profiteering and price collusion. Wits, UKZN, Rhodes, Sol Plaatjie, Stellenbosch and UP were some of the institutions adversely affected by this cap.  

The high influx of students to universities has resulted in a common supply versus demand crisis. More and more students are currently pursuing higher education studies and universities are struggling to cope as according to a 2018 Inside education report, SA universities were never designed to accommodate large numbers of students in on-campus residences.

Ironically, the demand can be seen as an NSfas success, as access to public higher education opened up post-1994, particularly through the scheme’s funding of poor students.

Careers portal, a website that provides updates on career and education related information reported in April that the department of higher education had revealed that there was a shortage of 400 000 student accommodation beds at 12 tertiary education institutions. 

Wits has approximately 40 000 students but can only accommodate 2 000 students on campus, according to the university’s website. The university’s response to this year’s protests was to provide 150 beds through its Hardship Fund, which was set up to assist financially needy students. This can go towards tuition or accommodation costs.

According to research by professor Fulufhelo Netserwa, executive dean at the Durban University of Technology, the student accommodation crisis in South Africa is a result of a complex set of factors, including inadequate investment in student housing, financial constraints faced by universities, and broader challenges related to urbanisation and housing affordability. 

This crisis is not new, which means prospective tertiary students should be nimble and wide awake when they apply to study at a university and give due consideration to where they would stay.

Unfortunately, over the three years of my undergraduate study at Wits, I have been one of those students who have been caught napping when it came to securing accommodation. During my matric year, when I was applying for admission to universities (Johannesburg, Free State, Limpopo and Wits) I also applied for accommodation, but for some reason not to Wits.

My excuse was that I had self-doubt and was not sure whether my grades would be good enough for me to be admitted at Wits. This does not make sense even as I am writing it. In first year I only secured accommodation a few days before the commencement of the academic year, at the South Point private student residence in Braamfontein.

One would have thought that I had learnt my lesson, but no, I let a couple of months pass after applications opened, and by the time I applied, all the university’s residences were full. This happened for two years and I had to settle for another private student accommodation, Campus Africa, also in Braamfontein. (Ironically, this year Wits has taken over the accommodation and renamed it Amani). 

So, my struggles to secure accommodation at Wits have been self-inflicted. I am back at Wits this year to pursue an honours degree. This time I do not have access to NSfas funding since I am in postgrad. I did not apply for university accommodation because this time I was uncertain whether I would secure funding for the year. Being self-funded, I was not going to be able to afford Wits accommodation.

Wits charges R 51 786 to R 109 077 for accommodation a year, for studio apartments and shared rooms at its self-catering residences. 

Private student accommodation residences require confirmation of funding and because I could not produce what was required, I was unable to apply for student accommodation near campus. 

This is how I found myself living way off campus in a residential flat in Maboneng in the CBD. Rent is between R 3 800 and R 4 000, including extra services such as water, sewage and refuse collection by the City of Johannesburg.  

I must see to it that I have electricity as the units have pre-paid meters. Electricity usually costs me R400 a month and I am able to stretch my usage because I live alone and switch off my appliances when they are not in use. Roughly my monthly expenditure amounts to R 5 300 including transport which is R 900 a month. This is a better option than the R 5 000 to R 10 000 rental one would find in Braamfontein. 

My experience is a cautionary tale for those applying to study at tertiary institutions to apply for admission and accommodation as early as possible so that they do not end up as part of the statistics about student accommodation crisis.  It is going to take a while for the problem of a shortage of beds to be resolved. According to a 2021 Sowetan Live article, higher education minister Dr Blade Nzimande revealed that R7,6 billion has been invested by the Development Bank of Southern Africa since 2020 in infrastructure projects across all 26 public universities. Through this infrastructure project the higher education department aims to provide 300 000 beds by 2030. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Sbongile Molambo. Photo: File