6 March 2017
Dear students and colleagues
Allow me to use this opportunity to welcome all first-year students to the University of Cape Town (UCT). I spent some time last week meeting your parents and had some vibrant conversations about their expectations of UCT. I also spent time at the Masingene building and at some of the residences as I wanted to get a sense of your experiences as you first enter UCT.
Over the last few weeks as chair of the Rapid Response Task Team, I pulled together a task team consisting of the Office of Student Housing and Residence Life, the Financial Aid Office and the Registrar?s Office. I did this in order to get a full picture of what to anticipate as students start the academic year and how to address some of the systemic problems we seem to face every year, not only with respect to accommodation, but also how it links with financial and academic exclusion.
My colleagues and the students (representing SRC Candidates/Shackville TRC and members of the Student Representative Council) on the task team have been committed to ensuring that no student lacks accommodation. However, my observations and interactions have led me to understand that UCT can do better, not only with respect to our current policies and systems, but also to our ability to understand the lived experiences of our students and our ability to respond to the many complexities that they may face as they enter the often unfamiliar world of UCT.
The housing situation
With respect to housing specifically, I think that we, as a university community, need to come to grips with the fact that we have a changing student profile that is beginning to mirror the socio-economic, race and gender realities of South Africa. That is at it should be.
However, the greatest transformation challenge for us lies in our ability to rise up to this reality. It means that we have a greater cohort of students who are not able to finance their own education, who rely on government funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the National Research Foundation and on bursaries. It means that we have a greater cohort of students who, if unable to secure accommodation in residences, have greater difficulty navigating off-campus accommodation that is increasingly priced at prohibitive levels.
At present we have residence capacity that is limited to 6 700 beds. We have more than 27 000 students. No matter how one looks at this, it presents a significant capacity problem, i.e. high demand, low supply, which is complicated further by the high rental costs of alternative accommodation.
What are the solutions?
As of Sunday afternoon UCT was at 75% residence capacity, with 5 025 students already in the residences. More students are expected to sign in today. In order to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible, we have made the following additional arrangements:
Because UCT has limited residence spaces, there will ultimately be students who will not get a place in residence, and these students will have to find alternative accommodation. We are working hard (through the OCSAS office) to support these students in finding affordable alternative accommodation. Any student arriving at UCT who experiences difficulty with accommodation is asked to immediately make contact with the staff of the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) by visiting the Masingene building on lower campus. Contact information is available via the webpage for the Student Housing Accommodation and Advocacy Services (SHAAS) office.
In ensuring that every eligible student has either on-campus or off-campus accommodation, the following principles apply:
I believe that as an institution we need to become more proactive in dealing with accommodation issues and this will be a key priority for me in 2017. In the meantime, I invite all of you to work together to ensure that we have a positive start to the academic year.
Professor Loretta Feris
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