Student Housing Infrastructure Programme (SHIP); with Minister

Higher Education, Science and Technology

11 February 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Miister and Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) briefed the Committee on its Student Housing Infrastructure Programme (SHIP) which aims to provide another 300 000 beds at the 26 public universities and 50 TVET colleges at over 300 campuses in all nine provinces over 10 years. Through the programme the funding will be blended from both public and private sectors - government, public institutions, developers, development finance institutions and the private sector.

The University Student Housing Survey revealed that there is a 287 507 total bed capacity and 184 973 is occupied by NSFAS students. Allocation of student housing is managed by universities in university residences according to their own policies. Housing allowances are paid. Universities are encouraged to ensure that first year students and NSFAS qualifying students are accommodated in university managed residences.  For off-campus accommodation (students living at home, with relatives or friends or making their own arrangements), they receive a living and transport allowance of R2 250 per month which is paid via universities.

There is insufficient private accredited student accommodation available near all campuses. Students can receive single use, private accommodation allowances on condition they submit a lease agreement to the university. However, lease agreements are not adequate to prevent fraud, to protect students from exploitation and over-pricing, or to ensure that private accommodation allowances are being effectively utilised. Consequently, universities are required to put in place a system to register and verify all private accommodation. The Department, with institutions and NSFAS, will develop a full accreditation system for private student accommodation. A national forum will be established for this work to take place across the system. For 2020, institutions continue to work according to their own policies for accreditation. Students continue to access private single use accommodation based on a lease agreement but institutions will put in place a second layer of verification.

The SHIP 300 000 target is to provide 200 000 beds at universities and 100 000 beds at TVET colleges. This goal means that number of beds provided each year must increase from present average of 4 000 to 30 000 a year. DHET contributes about R1 billion a year to student housing at universities, but not at colleges. At least R7 billion a year is required to achieve the 30 000 beds target. About R80 billion is required for some 150 projects in the programme. SHIP recognises government cannot achieve this target alone and has asked other stakeholders, including the private sector and DFIs, for support.  The Department’s programmatic approach has received widespread interest and support from potential partners in government, DFIs and the private sector. Implementation is through the long-term 10 year programme, the short-term pilot phase and the development of capacity to improve and oversee planning, procurement and implementation.

The main sources of funding for student housing development include the Department, Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI) grant funding, Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA)  loans, Infrastructure Investment Programme for South Africa (IIIPSA) grants, developers and financial institutions.

Some of the challenges experienced through SHIP were:
- Delays due to no title deeds, rezoning and land claims on rural campuses 
- Private entities competing for land deals with government
- Limited planning, procurement and implementation capacity in institutions
- Limited capacity in government to support programme preparation
- Uncoordinated sequencing of funding causes project delays and loss of funds
- Investors deterred by onerous procurement process, including poorly structured request for proposals (RFP), unclear timelines, extended bidding stages due to insufficient bids, and corrupt procurement process
- Private sector promoting corrupt and illegal practices or projects in their own interests.

Members asked questions about DHET capacity to coordinate the Programme; if it has resolved the asbestos hazard at University of Venda and Limpopo student accommodation; student allowances; private accommodation accreditation and verification; and for an update on Sefako Makgatho University (SMU). Members were not pleased about the corruption that has crippled stability at institutions such as Fort Hare, Universities of Limpopo and Venda, SMU and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). Corruption at Fort Hare had halted the SHIP rollout. DHET assured Members that it has intervened in many of these cases and introduced stringent conditions and approval terms for an institution to be eligible for SHIP funding. The Chairperson requested that SHIP progress be included in the Department's quarterly reports to the Committee.

The Minister said in response to the student accommodation challenge, he intends developing a Comprehensive Student Accommodation Strategy to cover all aspects of student accommodation. This includes capacity to monitor and evaluate. Institutional autonomy has a level of accountability; institutions cannot bask in institutional autonomy and expect not to be held accountable by government when they receive government funding.

Meeting report

Chairperson's remarks on Committee Oversight Visit
The Chairperson noted that the Committee concluded its oversight visit programme last week which went very well. He hoped that everything goes well for the Administrator of the Vaal University of Technology (VUT). The Committee was impressed with its meeting with CSIR. The organisation is in good hands with the Chief Executive Officer that seems to have a good grasp of what needs to be done. He also commended the CSIR Board Chairperson, Mr Majozi who appeared to be looking after the organisation well. The Committee visited SITA but there are still problems with the certificates backlog. There are outstanding certificates from 1992. Members picked up that the neglect on the investment in the IT system by SITA. This prompted the Department to procure its own system. It has been five years since the system was procured but it is still "under development". It is contributing towards the backlog. Members were told that it is the best system – yet it has not been tested.

The Committee visited Tshwane University of Technology and recommended that TUT Enterprise Holdings review its model because it is a recipe for disaster. The entity seems like an instrument that exists to facilitate corruption, to put it bluntly, such as a lack of proper procurement and nepotism. It has become a massive area for contestation and it is polarising the entire university. There are people who hold strong opposing views. The extent of capture going on at TUT is extremely appalling. It is outsourcing services that are supposed to be rendered by the university and the university employees who provide those services are simply dormant. Both council and management were present. But TUT Council chairperson finally decided to resign to focus on his responsibilities as Gauteng Health MEC. He was quite impressed with the CSIR and it should continue to be supported.

Minister’s remarks
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, firstly addressed the allegation in the media about R5 billion paid to a student. He assured the Committee that the allegation is unfounded. When he inquired from the NSFAS Administrator about this matter, he was assured that it was impossible for the NSFAS system to action a transaction of that magnitude. 

As for the CSIR, it is one of the gems of the Department but in last ten years it has lost most of its researchers because of inadequate resources. Perhaps, in the current administration the Department could work on re-strengthening the CSIR. For example, one of the biggest challenges in the post school system is data. With around about 1.2 million students in the sector, DHET should be able to know more about its students through data analytics. CSIR has a huge capacity on that score.

The Department was asked to brief the Committee on student housing – a specific component of the totality of post school education and training infrastructure. The aim is to increase the number of beds in universities and TVET colleges but student accommodation is much more complex than that. One of the tasks that he gave himself was to develop and drive a much more coherent and comprehensive student accommodation model. For example, in student accommodation there is institution-owned accommodation. However, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. There is a policy guideline for institutions to understand and monitor that. Some universities have very good accommodation policies such as prioritising first and second year students in the institution-owned residences. However, that is one model and the gap is huge at TVET colleges.

There is also private student accommodation which is not a single model in itself such as students that live in people’s backyards or rent an apartment. The second model is ‘speculative’ private student accommodation where people build close to universities in the hopes of getting students to stay in their properties. The other model is an arrangement between the institutions and private accommodation owners, where the institution would contract the private owner to provide accommodation to students.

There are other dimensions to student accommodation. There is a big difference between urban and rural institutions. In the latter, there is hardly any choice beyond TVET or university-provided accommodation. Hence, he would prefer prioritising funding towards development of institution-owned accommodation in rural areas. In the urban areas, there is at least the provision of private accommodation. He would like to develop a comprehensive student accommodation strategy which takes all these matters into account.

The other challenge is there is a significant uneven capacity amongst institutions to drive the construction of accommodation. Unfortunately, there are instances of corruption and in instances it is like “we are throwing money to dogs”. This is where the importance of developing a comprehensive student accommodation strategy would come in.

Student Housing Infrastructure Programme (SHIP): DHET briefing
Mr Feizal Toefy, DHET Chief Director: Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, reported that the Department through SHIP aims to provide 300 000 beds at the 26 public universities and 50 TVET colleges on over 300 campuses in all nine provinces over ten years. The funding will be blended from both public and private sectors - government, public institutions, developers, development finance institutions and the private sector.

The University Student Housing Survey revealed that currently there is a 287 507 total bed capacity and 184 973 beds are occupied by NSFAS students. Allocation of students housing is managed by universities in university residences according to their own housing policies. Housing allowances are paid. Universities are encouraged to ensure that first year students and NSFAS qualifying students are accommodated in university managed residences.  Off-campus students (living at home, with relatives or friends or making their own arrangements) receive a NSFAS living and transport allowance of R2 250 per month which is paid via universities.

There is insufficient private accredited off-campus student accommodation near all campuses. Students can receive single use, private accommodation allowances on condition they submit a lease agreement to the university. However, lease agreements are not adequate to prevent fraud, to protect students from exploitation and over-pricing, or to ensure that private accommodation allowances are being effectively utilised. So universities are required to put in place a system to register and verify all private accommodation. The Department, with institutions and NSFAS, will develop a full accreditation system for private accommodation. A national forum will be established for this work to take place across the system. For 2020, institutions continue to work according to their policies for accreditation. Students continue to access private single use accommodation based on a lease agreement but institutions must put in place a second layer of verification.

The SHIP 300 000 target is to provide 200 000 beds at universities and 100 000 beds at TVET colleges. This goal means that the number of beds provided every year must increase from the present average of 4 000 to about 30 000 a year. DHET contributes about R1 billion a year to student housing at universities, but not at colleges. At least R7 billion a year is required to achieve the 30 000 beds target. About R80 billion is required for some 150 projects in the programme. SHIP recognises government cannot achieve this target alone, and has asked other stakeholders, including the private sector and DFIs, for support.  The Department’s programmatic approach has received widespread interest and support from potential partners in government, DFIs and the private sector. Implementation is through the long-term 10 year programme, the short-term pilot phase and the development of capacity to improve and oversee planning, procurement and implementation.

The main sources of funding for student housing development include the Department, Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI) grant funding, Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA)  loans, Infrastructure Investment Programme for South Africa (IIIPSA) grants, developers and financial institutions.

Some of the challenges experienced through SHIP were:
- Delays due to no title deeds, rezoning and land claims on rural campuses 
- Private entities competing for land deals with government
- Limited planning, procurement and implementation capacity in institutions
- Limited capacity in government to support programme preparation
- Uncoordinated sequencing of funding causes project delays and loss of funds
- Investors deterred by onerous procurement process, including poorly structured request for proposals (RFP), unclear timelines, extended bidding stages due to insufficient bids, and corrupt procurement process

Discussion
The Chairperson said that the University of Fort Hare student accommodation did not look modern. There is a serious lack of innovation and he asked if the amenities inside the building are modern. Capacity has been raised a number of times as a challenge. Measures to deal with that challenge were not adequate as this programme required a very strong capacity on the Department’s part. This is a big programme and therefore requires adequate capacity.  

He picked up quite a number of serious problems at Sefako Makgatho University (SMU) around infrastructure and the involvement of council in the procurement and construction with a lot of contestation in council. Most of the planning, procurement and implementation is done at university level. He believed that to be one of the errors. The SMU council is in a very bad state primarily about procurement. Strong and intense capacity from the Department is seriously needed. Perhaps DHET should take over the procurement process at institutions to mitigate the corruption crippling the institution. He hoped for further future deliberations with the Minister about SMU. 

Mr P Keetse (EFF) said that on 27 August 2019 the Committee had an engagement on this matter and challenges facing students on the ground. He provided a list of campuses that are facing serious problems with student infrastructure. This will avoid coming back to the Committee and speaking about this over and over again.

At the University of Venda, student accommodation buildings have had asbestos roofing for more than ten to 15 years. There have been numerous commitments from government to replace the asbestos but nothing has come to fruition yet. Asbestos is known to be hazardous; it is not conducive to be used for more than ten years. The same issue exists at the University of Limpopo and first year students are usually thrown into those residences. Something needs to be done because it directly affects students’ health. He asked what DHET was doing about this matter which was brought to its attention by the EFF in the Fifth Parliament. He suggested that a written response to this matter would suffice and timelines must be indicated if DHET intends to remove the asbestos.

The Central University of Technology (CUT) relies heavily on private accommodation and that comes with a lot of corruption. Consequence management must be looked into seriously, particularly for maintenance.

At Turfloop (University of Limpopo), renovations took place but they did not last even three months as the quality of the material used was very poor. DHET does not seem to have any teeth in dealing with these matters. In fact, it seems to be scared of these institutions. For example, at the start of the year, the Minister made a commitment that no students will be turned away from registering due to financial constraints. The very next day, the vice chancellors at these universities turned students back and told them that they want money and that there is nothing the Minister can do.

The Fort Hare infrastructure project does not even look like it will accommodate the 3 500 beds. Members have been on that campus and are aware of the challenges there. He believed that most of the projects have not commenced. Thus DHET must be honest in its presentation.

He suggested that they look into partnerships with private accommodation as some universities have a substantial number of students that cannot all be accommodated by the institutions. The regulating of private accommodation needs serious attention. Currently, private student accommodation is too expensive for students.

A Soshanguve TVET college has TUT students staying at its residence. Accommodation for college students is already an challenge but it seems that the college and TUT have come to some form of agreement to house the TUT students in that college residence. Could DHET provide clarity on this matter if the delegation is aware of it.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) lamented the lack of monitoring by the Department during the construction phase. She sought clarity on travel allowances given to students that live at home.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) suggested that the Ministry and the Committee need to communicate regularly, particularly when the Ministry makes decisions on pertinent matters. This would ensure that Members are in the loop on what is going on. People on the ground expect MPs to be aware and know about the Ministry’s decisions. It makes engagements with the public easier for MPs if they are aware of these decisions.

She agreed with the Minister about the corruption taking place at the procurement level at institutions. She asked if DHET takes action against institutions or contractors that have been given money and later claim to have run out of money during the construction phase. Most of the service providers do not utilise all the funds allocated for the construction.

She lamented the lack of proper systems in some institutions to ensure that maintenance is done in residence buildings. The lack of proper systems is very evident at the University of Venda where students do not return their dorm keys when they leave campus for school holidays. This gives them access to the residences even outside the academic period.

She advised that the Vice Chancellor at the University of Venda shad aid that he was able to bargain for an increased allowance for his students to get safer accommodation. However, the student body claimed that no matter how much money is given to students, safety will continue to remain an challenge. DHET should encourage institutions to work together with departments and municipalities to create a safe space for students.

She asked how many TVET colleges will be receiving student accommodation. She asked for an indication of how the accommodation guidelines will meet required standards. She asked for an indication of accreditation grades for buildings and if where guidelines have been relaxed this has impacted the buildings.

Ms Mkhatshwa sought clarity on whether the allowances for TVET colleges were adequate.

The Chairperson recalled that the student, Precious Ramabulana, was raped and stabbed 52 times by an intruder at her private rented accommodation. The student must have signed a lease for that accommodation. That incident did not only expose the scourge of gender based-violence but also the safety challenges faced by students living in private accommodation. He suggested that there should be consideration by DHET and Capricorn TVET College to name a residence after her. Such tragic incidents leave one wondering if this programme is being given adequate attention.

When a student enters into a lease agreement, is there a way of verifying if the accommodation is safe for students? What is the role of the institution in ensuring accommodation has satisfied safety requirements? So in memory of Precious Ramabulana, safety in private accommodation needs to be prioritised.

He reiterated his deep concern about the capacity in DHET.

Responses
Mr Steve Mommen, DHET Director: Logistical Services, replied that in the current infrastructure programme on 16 sites, there are two TVET colleges that have student accommodation included in the current build (with 124 beds). All of them have student accommodation on the site development plan, meaning there is a secondary phase which when funding is available will yield more. The other sites have the capacity to include more beds and expansion.

The next phase has already identified six more colleges with a total of about 9 000 beds identified. Those colleges are already part of the identified SHIP programme.

Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, DHET Director General, replied that SMU is designated as a new university and it has received substantial infrastructure funding of over R1 billion. The SHIP programme has come in as an addition. The former Vice Chancellor of SMU picked up on trends of corruption in that institution and a report has been provided to the Minister. The Minister has since met the SMU council to engage on this matter. A criminal case has been opened. The matters are now being attended to by law enforcement. Indeed there are serious allegations of corruption taking place in that institution as well as at the University of Venda.

The SHIP programme at SMU falls within the funding arrangements like all other institutions under the programme. The funding comes from Treasury, private funding, IIPSA and DBSA. The breakdown is R62.45 million from Treasury, R24 million from IIPSA and R245 million DBSA loan and R232 million from DHET under the SHIP programme. There are stringent conditions in the rollout for project implementation and approval. In as far as the SHIP programme, there has not been any cost over-run or project failure in meeting its deadline.

Project implementation at the University of Fort Hare has been a stalemate since 2014, because in the process of the institution procuring those services, there were internal issues that caused a halt to the project. There was a split within management on which service providers must be used. As a result the vice chancellor eventually left. The DHET intervened and assisted with the problems. So the resuscitation through the SHIP programme is as a result of the interventions of DHET. This is also the case with University of Venda which has so far aborted about six projects due to internal challenges with leadership and management. DHET has made some intervention, including opening cases and providing notices in the process of the appointment of the independent assessor.

There are challenges at the University of Limpopo as well but it is a beneficiary of the SHIP programme which ensures that in order for the money to be released, strict conditions by DHET must be met. These conditions span throughout procurement as well.

Mr Qonde advised that he would come back with a proper response to Mr Keetse' question on the TVET college residence utilised by TUT students. He did not want to speculate on that.

As for VUT, the Minister has put the institution under administration and an Administrator has been appointed. Since the appointment there has been significant momentum even through the SHIP programme.

On the allowances for TVET colleges, in our engagements with the colleges, the going rental rate is not uniform across the different regions. There are areas where it is much higher or lower. So a determination was arrived at to ensure that the resources were fully utilised without disadvantaging any student. DHET was told that that categorisation of allowances is effective in ensuring that the meagre resources are spread out evenly according to the contexts in which the students reside.

On private accommodation, the norms and standards are quite clear but the challenge is that there are students in single use facilities. DHET thought that in those instances it would be appropriate to ensure that a proper lease agreement is facilitated between the landlord and the institution. The question of relaxation is with respect to understanding different accommodation situations as they present themselves.

Mr Qonde replied that the Minister is engaging with SMU on the challenges happening at that institution. The process is currently unfolding.

The DHET does have some teeth to enforce conditions and programmes that have been determined by it. If that were not the case, VUT and Fort Hare would not be under administration, amongst other issues that have been attended to by the Minister.

Mr Keetse suggested that perhaps the DHET could send some health practitioners at the University of Venda and Limpopo to monitor the asbestos health hazard in the structures.

Mr Qonde replied that DHET is currently working on dealing with those matters and it will update the Committee once that work has been completed. There are infrastructure facilities that are actually abandoned in those institutions due to poor workmanship.

The Chairperson said that the problem seems to stem more at an institutional level with the delivery of big infrastructure projects. There are capacity challenges at the level of DHET to assist.

Minister Nzimande replied that he will be paying attention to capacity for this programme. The focus will be proper coordination of the infrastructure with the focus on a comprehensive student accommodation strategy. Thus far, the strategy has focused more on funding for institutional infrastructure. This strategy has not been effective in addressing the problems that have crippled student housing.

The Minister will come back to the Committee to brief it on the work that he will be doing. The work on infrastructure needs to be coordinated within DHET and this is what will be done going forward. This includes capacity to monitor and evaluate. Institutional autonomy has a level of accountability; institutions cannot bask in institutional autonomy and expect not to be held accountable by government when they receive funding from government.

The Minister said that DHET will follow up on the matters raised by Mr Keetse.

Minister Nzimande said that the allegations of corruption at institutions involve all different stakeholders such as students and senior staff members in the administration. For example, some students are in cahoots with security companies. The more disruption students cause on campus will require the institution to make use of more security. The problem is when allegations remain allegations and the people that have the evidence do not come forth to provide that evidence so DHET can take action.

The Minister said the maintenance plan must be incorporated into the infrastructure strategy. This needs to be developed at the initial stages of the infrastructure strategy.

The Minister noted that strong structures must exist at these institutions. The DHET can deal with the issues that it ought to deal with and likewise the institutions. DHET cannot ‘babysit’ institutions and challenges that must be dealt with at institutional level, must be dealt with at that level.

Minister Nzimande said that DHET has handed over the responsibility of accreditation and verification of private accommodation to the institutions. He acknowledged the suggestion of naming a building after the late Precious Ramabulana. The suggestion would be considered by the Department.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee and DHET will continue engaging on this matter, perhaps it could be done during quarterly reporting. This will enable the Committee to keep track of the progress in development and the infrastructure rollout.

The Chairperson said that the situation at Sefako Makgatho University is terrible and he argued that the institution might turn into a gangster institution. Hopefully the Minister will attend to this matter swiftly. The sad part about this is that the institution is an historically disadvantaged one and it is worrying that these problems always only seem to be happening at institutions of that nature.

Meeting adjourned.
 

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