UKZN Students Facing Accommodation Crisis

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is dealing with a number of challenges that have left students sleeping outside. The institution and the university’s Student Representative Council is currently engaged in a war and things have escalated to the extreme.

Universities across South Africa have had a rocky start to the 2023 academic year, due to the eruption of student protests at various campuses during the first week of the institution’s re-opening.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is another one of those institutions where students are protesting financial blocks that are preventing registration, as well as difficulties with securing student accommodation. The protests led to the suspension of academic activities for a week.

Things are only seeming to get worse at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) as students enrolled at the university are allegedly sleeping outdoors, due to those challenges with accommodation.

The reason for students having to sleep outside is attributed to delayed communication from the university, which provides the confirmation that students have been accepted for placement at student accommodation, despite the university’s academic calendar kicking off two weeks ago.

Securing student accommodation at any institution is rarely smooth sailing, and students have continuously expressed their frustrations with the universities and colleges they are enrolled at, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), as well as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

On top of the lack of accommodation, some students also haven’t been able to register for the UKZN 2023 academic year, which is an additional worry as the registration period will be closing soon, meaning those students will be excluded from university activities going forward.

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“We are asking for an extension of the registration [period], because we’ve seen how many students are not being accommodated and they cannot be registered,” says Songezo Mzamo, a member of UKZN’s Edgewood campus Student Representative Council (SRC).

According to Mzamo, the SRC had written a proposal asking for an extension, but it was only granted to first-year and postgraduate students. The SRC is asking that all students at the university may be allowed to register.

The lack of proper student accommodation, and in this case, being without student accommodation completely, leaves students vulnerable and unsafe.

NSFAS and the DHET have been working to ensure that funded students live in accommodation facilities that are conducive to study; however, this was not always the reality.

The gloomy conditions students often find themselves living in have made their university experience unbearable; conditions they have been living in for most of their study period. Students have said also that not only was their accommodation uncomfortable, but it has affected their ability to study and has put their mental and physical health and wellness at risk.

Students also live in fear of the crime in the area, worried for their safety as they are targeted by criminals.

UKZN is not the first institution to deal with such extreme problems revolving around student accommodation.

Last year, many students enrolled at and living in student residences at the University of Zululand were faced with severe issues that made their university experience insufferable.

Complaints of “inhumane” conditions in reference to student accommodation, struggle to find accommodation and compromised safety while at off-campus residences have been plaguing the thousands of students at the institution.

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At the time, the DHET had taken steps to ensure that the institution builds more residences, in order to deal with the situation of students who are stranded or otherwise living in unfavorable accommodation conditions.

UKZN’s SRC has been unable to do much for the students left on the streets, as other students at the university have been arrested and taken to court for allegedly setting two UKZN buildings alight, as well as for the student protests.

The SRC has also alleged that the heightened campus security has threatened to shoot at students if they are walking together in a group of 10 or more people.

One of the main concerns that students without accommodation are grappling with is the possibility that they themselves might be arrested for speaking out about the ongoing issues at the university, potentially losing the path to their future.

Aside from security, students say there has been no communication between themselves and the institution, even though the SRC has reached out numerous times.

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