The number of students who applied for residence accommodation at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in 2016 has increased by 11%.
The University received 15 573 applications this year compared to 13 536 in 2015, and the 3.4% growth from 2014 to 2015.
Throughout the country, universities face accommodation challenges. A 2015 survey, which focused on nine universities, for example, found that there were just over 68 000 spaces for more than 140000 residence applications received in the same year.
At NMMU this year the accommodation challenge has been compounded by the increase in applications as a result of the introduction of free on-line registration for residences and the consequences of the #FeesMustFall campaign.
In November 2015, the NMMU Council resolved to offer academically-deserving but financially poor NMMU students 2015 debt relief and 2016 down payment relief, which led to larger-than-usual numbers of returning students.
“The University usually offers provisional accommodation to slightly more students than the number of beds available as many of these students do not take up the offer because of outstanding debt or their inability to raise the down payment required by registration.
“All this changed, when the University rightfully offered debt and down payment relief. This decision was made after our provisional accommodation plans were finalized and many more students were able to return to campus,” says NMMU Acting Dean of Students, Mr Mxolisi Ncapayi.
As at 24 February, 75 students were still being temporarily housed in one of the University’s many accredited off-campus facilities.
Mr Ncapayi said the University has been working systematically through the double bookings by providing temporary accommodation at iKhaya in Govan Mbeki Avenue, North End.
To date, the Task Team has managed to place about 20 students in official university accommodation or in accredited off-campus facilities using the students’ academic results to prioritize who moves first.
According to NMMU Director: Student Housing Dr Shuping Mpuru of this year’s applicants, 7 649 (49%) of the 15 573 applicants are first-time entrants to the university system. The number of beds available in residences on campus at NMMU, however, constitutes only 12% of NMMU’s student body.
“Although we reserved 920 beds for the first year applicants, only 740 beds were taken up by first- years by the time the senior returning students arrived. This figure is significantly higher than the national average of 5% reserved for first years at other South African universities.
Senior student challenges
According to Mr Ncapayi, one of the biggest challenges has been the placement of the senior students who, on returning to NMMU at a slightly later date, have had to share rooms instead of moving into single rooms as they had expected.
“Some of these students were temporarily placed in both on-campus junior residences and an accredited off-campus property and those in off-campus property are being brought back to on-campus residences as spaces become available.”
NMMU has formed a number of partnerships with metro landlords since 2012 to offer students alternative, reasonable accommodation. This means a further 3 500 beds are available in accredited off-campus accommodation. There are also a further 4 000 known beds in private homes throughout the metro.
A further challenge is that off-campus property owners do not recognize the exemption from down payment that is being offered on campus.
“We are preparing a proposal to deal with this,” said Mr Ncapayi, who is part of the Residence Accommodation Task Team formed earlier this year as a means of seeking mutual solutions to the various challenges.
The University has 3237 beds in Port Elizabeth and George. An audit of all students presently residing in on-campus residences shows that only a further 10 students are likely to be accommodated on-campus, and that more permanent arrangements will have to be made for those who are being temporarily housed in an off-campus residence. Many of these students are being assisted with meal vouchers as per an earlier promise by NMMU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Derrick Swartz.
“Again, we’d like to give the assurance, that no student who was offered accommodation in 2016 will be turned away.”