Update on student accommodation

06 March 2017
 

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:

  • Transit and short-term accommodation is available for students who have received residence offers but who cannot immediately be placed in a residence for various reasons. It will take us a few days to place those students in their proper residences and in the interim they will be housed and will eat in transit accommodation.
  • Overnight accommodation is available for students who do not currently have an offer of a residence place and have no alternative accommodation. They are referred to UCT?s Off Campus Student Accommodation Services (OCSAS), which will provide comprehensive information and guidance on off-campus accommodation.
  • On Friday the Vice-Chancellor appealed to staff, students and parents to provide affordable accommodation, and on Saturday a wider appeal to the southern suburbs area of Cape Town was communicated via social media and other media outlets. So far this has yielded 45 additional beds.

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:

  • First-year students with an academic offer, who are still awaiting the results of their application for NSFAS funding, will be accommodated in residence and should contact the SHAAS office in the Masingene building.
  • First-year students who have an academic place and have NSFAS funding and no residence offer should contact the SHAAS office in Masingene immediately. They will be assisted with a residence offer.
  • Students who are eligible for financial aid but do not have a residence offer will be assisted through OCSAS.
  • Students who have exceeded the number of years permissible in residence (N+1 rule) should contact OCSAS. We are trying to assist and accommodate these students as well.

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.

Sincerely

Professor Loretta Feris
Deputy Vice-Chancellor


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