Unpacking SA’s student housing crisis

Posted On Tuesday, 11 February 2020 10:42 Published by
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Students returning to university this month are once again facing the problem of insufficient and inadequate accommodation.


The Department of Education has acknowledged that an additional 300 000 beds are required to accommodate the nation’s students, although industry experts consider this a conservative figure. For universities, the biggest challenge to providing student housing is the cost of building and maintenance.

“It’s a crisis of affordability, which can in part be addressed by reducing the cost of providing a student bed. In South Africa, it costs approximately R54 000 per year to operate and finance a new or greenfield student bed. The majority of students can afford R31 000 to R35 000 per annum, but only with state subsidies,” says John Schooling, Director of student accommodation group, STAG African.

As the nationwide scramble for accommodation ensues, students who do not get into university residences are forced to seek housing elsewhere. For those who can’t afford private accommodation close to campus, the only affordable options are often far from campus and sometimes in areas with high crime rates, poor internet connectivity and no running water – conditions that are not conducive to academic success.

To address this, universities need to find ways to provide accommodation at a low cost without compromising quality. “The solution is not to build 600-bed skyscrapers at a bargain price. Students in such large residences do not feel a sense of community, security or support, all of which are key to achieving academically. To ensure student success, new residences must be built with innovation, sustainability, community, flexibility, technology and affordability in mind,” says Schooling.

Working from an affordable price backwards, STAG African has specialised in sourcing funding, designing and constructing world-class student accommodation. The company pioneered the use of green building technologies in the construction of residences, reducing construction and maintenance costs. “The current cost per bed in South Africa is between R280 000 and R600 000 – this is excessively high. STAG has worked out that it’s possible to price down to as low as R180 000 per bed. By reducing the overall cost, we can make the cost to the end user more affordable,” says Schooling.

With over 10 years’ experience developing student housing, STAG African has delivered more than 3 000 beds across South Africa, including the greenest residence in Africa at Stellenbosch University. They are currently developing a 2 047-bed student village at the University of Fort Hare - this is the largest student accommodation development ever undertaken by a South African university.

Last modified on Thursday, 13 February 2020 10:58

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