Change the world


The Weekend Post recently published an article stipulating plans by property owners of the city to blacklist students who owe rentals from previous years and also to ban students who have damaged their property. I’ve decided to share some contents of my masters degree research in this article, to reveal the latest evidence from the student accommodation industry which the university, government, property owners and students need to grapple with for all of us to arrive at better and tangible decisions derived from criticality.

Letaba Residence on the University's North Campus

There are three contextual challenges that are unique to Port Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela University which the student accommodation stakeholders must take into consideration:

  1. The economics of residence location derived from the commodification of urban land;
  2. The infrastructure limitations of the university derived from enrolment massification and the changing socioeconomic demographics of the students;
  3. A disjointed financing model by the state for student accommodation fees which creates an endless contestation between students, property owners and the university on cost-benefit expectations.

I’ll explain each of the three briefly.

First, the city is divided along class lines which are shaped by the ethos of property value.

Summerstrand, which is a suburb that is closest to the university and the ocean, has been priced by the market forces as a highly valued piece of land to reside in.

This results in owners of properties in the area charging high rents to match their supply side costs such as municipal rates, housing bonds and other related property taxes.

This prices out poor students from being able to stay close to the university.

As a result, Summerstrand becomes a competitive space for residential purposes between middle-upper-income students and university professionals.

The local government adds fuel to the pricing regime of Summerstrand wherein it sees property in this location as a space for it to generate maximum revenue, an issue which takes me to my second point.

The post-apartheid policies such as NSFAS have opened up university enrolments in unprecedented numbers.

Although this is a progressive step, it has brought infrastructural challenges for the university.

On-campus student accommodation was the major shortage that the university faced and as a result, the function of accommodating the majority of the students had to be outsourced to the private sector in off-campus residences in the city.

To accommodate the poor mass of students, big properties in low-cost land areas of the city, such as North End and Korsten, had to be sadly utilised for student accommodation purposes.

In addition, the poor public transport system in the city meant that the university had to use its own limited resources to supply students with an outsourced bus shuttle service.

The location of poor students some distance from the university and the tiring duration of their commuting have a negative impact on their living and learning experiences.

This also determines whether they are retained in the university to complete their qualifications or drop out.

Last, the government offers a monthly student accommodation fee of an average of R2,800 per month through NSFAS for the private sector to offer a good quality residential space with all the necessary amenities a student will need for 30 days.

The property owner is expected to provide uninterrupted electricity, hot water, Wi-Fi, security, maintenance, cleaning, bedding, DSTV and other recreational facilities for 30 days at a cost of R2,800, and still be able to make a profit.

I argue that this financial model by the state is unsustainable.

Furthermore, this financial model creates conflict between student expectations of what university accommodation ought to be and the reality of the property owners’ duty to make a profit from the available resources.

This is at the heart of the problem and it brings student frustrations to the boil.

The university’s intervention in the form of endless negotiations that do not yield any material differences for the students and property owners are not the solution.

Outbursts by student leaders are also futile.

The solution would be a complete overhaul of the financial model that the state is using to fund student accommodation.

The state must treat student accommodation as a priority, and begin to provide adequate resources for the private sector to offer quality accommodation services and also provide space for them to make a profit.

The state uses this financial logic when it outsources the building of national roads.

The local government must also intervene by offering a quality public transport service so that the university can divert its bus shuttle service expenditure into more research, teaching and learning for the university.

This would not only improve the quality of student life in off-campus residences, but it would also create a harmonised business environment of trust, mutual benefit and satisfied expectations by all stakeholders of off-campus student accommodation.

‚óŹ Pedro Mzileni is a PhD sociology candidate at Nelson Mandela University. This is the first of a regular biweekly column he will write for The Herald.

This article appeared in The Weekend Post of 26 January 2019 written by Pedro Mzileni

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Contact information
Mr Pedro Mzileni
Research Assistant
Tel: 041 504 4952