Advice and Opinion

South Africa’s student housing shortage is a crisis of affordability

Nkosi Johnson House in Stellenbosch.
Nkosi Johnson House in Stellenbosch.

South Africa is facing a chronic student housing shortage. While universities across the country search for ways to provide affordable accommodation, preconceived ideas about what student housing should cost is preventing major advancements says John Schooling, Director at local student accommodation group STAG African.

“To ensure the next generation of students are adequately provided for, it is vital for universities and developers to change the way they think about student housing and this starts with the cost.”

The Department of Education has acknowledged that at least 300 000 beds are required to accommodate the nation’s students. The lack of accommodation has been linked to higher failure and dropout rates for first year students. Affordable quality student accommodation is critical for the success of not only individual students but for South Africa. This crisis of affordability, which can in part be addressed by reducing the cost of providing a student bed.

Current pricing to build student housing on campus is estimated at R320 000 per bed which can increase to R550 000 when taking land costs into account. This figure is excessively high, and the amount can be reduced by examining the cost of each line item involved in the development of student housing including material costs, construction costs, and professional fees – and asking how these costs can be reduced without compromising on quality. STAG African’s research has shown that the cost of building new housing can be brought down to as low as R260 000 per bed.

The first – and easiest – step to achieve affordability is through optimal architectural design says Schooling.

This means designing student housing exactly in accordance with the Department of Higher Education and Training’s minimum norms and standards, without creating any dead areas or wasted spaces. Sustainable, energy-efficient design elements, including solar panels, grey water systems and energy saving LED bulbs, can also help to reduce operational costs and environmental impact.”

The use of Innovative Building Technologies (IBTs) can reduce the cost of building materials by 10%. IBT is a green alternative to bricks and mortar buildings that uses lightweight steel structures, manufactured off-site. This cuts on-site building time by up to 30%, as the construction team is only assembling pre-made components, instead of building from scratch.

Our patent pod design, which houses eight students per pod, is designed with quality and affordability in mind. Every component of the pods, from light switches and window fixtures to floor and wall designs, has been designed once-off in-house. This approach saves time for architects and engineers, who only need to implement exiting elements, instead of designing new components per project. By limiting personal interactions, the pods are also pandemic proof – ensuring that they can stay inhabited and operational even during uncertain times” says Schooling.

With the completion of a 2 047-bed student village at the University of Fort Hare – the largest student accommodation development ever undertaken by a South African university – and the greenest residence in Africa at Stellenbosch University’s Tygerberg campus, STAG African has demonstrated that it is possible to develop affordable student housing that is also world-class.