A day in the life of the Student Housing and Residence Life Department

14 February 2011

Student Housing and Residence Life teamThe department has its main headquarters in Avenue House in Mowbray, with the Student Housing Admissions section based in the New Student Administration Building on Middle Campus. It is among the biggest support staff departments at UCT, with a staff of over 100.

Student Housing and Residence Life comprises the following sections:

  • The Directorate is made up of the Director, Grant Willis, an IT co-ordinator, the office manager and a personal assistant.
  • The 60-strong Student Housing Facilities section has staff located in residences. They include Residence Facilities Officers who ensure that rooms are properly maintained and that keys, telephones, laundries and other essentials for comfortable living are available and in good working order. Also included are handypersons who perform maintenance, and front-desk assistants who deal with inquiries. This section is headed by Glenn von Zeil.
  • Each residence has a warden, and the larger ones each have an assistant warden. The 30 wardens belong to the College of Wardens, which is chaired by Professor Anwar Mall. Wardens are responsible, along with house committees, for creating friendly and comfortable environments in which students are able to pursue their academic objectives and achieve personal growth.
  • The Residence Life team, managed by Charmaine January, comprises four members who deal with general residence life issues such as orientation, mentoring, academic development, and sub-warden and house committee training.
  • The Student Housing Admissions and Advocacy Services, headed by acting manager Nolukholo Tshwete, has seven members who are responsible for the administration of the admission process into residences and for ensuring that the Student Housing Admissions Policy is adhered to.
  • Peter Coode manages the Commercial Enterprises Section, which is made up of eight staff. They are responsible for the vacation accommodation programme, staff housing and All Africa House. They also deal with commercial interests such as shops and garages.
  • Then there's the Finance Section, for which Yumna Thomas is the manager, and has three staff. They take care of the Department's finances and have responsibility for the budgeting process.
  • Noel Adams manages Off-Campus Student Accommodation Services. This section arranges alternative accommodation for students who could not be admitted at residences by alerting them to rental accommodation available elsewhere.

MP spoke to Grant Willis.

What are the challenges of your duties?

Every year has different challenges. In 2010 the FIFA Soccer World Cup posed a big challenge in providing accommodation to world cup guests. The focus for 2011 has turned to the review of the Student Housing administration policy and the challenge of ensuring that Obz Square, to become our biggest residence in the system with 930 beds, is up and running by the beginning of 2012.

What are the highs and lows of your work?

A low point is explaining to desperate parents and students that all residence places have been taken. We have to listen to them and express empathy, but also be realistic that we can't make more offers. It is always difficult to explain why we don't have space for them; fortunately we have experienced staff to cope with these situations. I hope in the years to come we will have more accommodation and less anguish from parents and students. A high point is the start of the year, as students enter their residence armed with suitcases and various implements they think they will require. A cycle is about to commence and with it the responsibility bestowed upon one's shoulders.

What is the strangest thing you have encountered?

Avenue House, Student Housing's new home, has a hall next to it. The hall and the house used to be attached. In the past the venue was let to the filming world, but in between shoots it was not utilised - we thought. One day I was checking on the venue and heard strange thumping noises emerging from the hall. Having beat a hasty retreat into a neighbouring residence, I called Campus Protection Services to establish what was going on. CPS, with me at a safe distance behind, slowly approached the hall and peered inside, expecting to see a ghost, only to find three children riding their BMX bicycles.

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