The educational funding and solutions provider, Fundi, recently launched a digital accommodation platform for students, institutions, and merchants to manage the accommodation process online. The launch was held. on 20 February at the Rand Club in Johannesburg and was attended by keynote speakers such as Fundi’s CEO, Tshepo Ditshego, Stephen Narsoo who is the CEO of Kite Capital and Professor Adam Habib, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). According to Ditshego, the aim of the event was to encourage collaboration by taking the ideas and considerations of students and institutions in order to see how Fundi, as a private player, could address some of the accommodation challenges.
He explained that the platform will become like the “Amazon of Education”, a go-to platform for students for education-related matters. It was created to have an interface that allows easy registration and navigation of functions, such as selecting an accommodation budget and messaging the property merchants. “This is just the beginning,” he said. He added that “collaborations will continue with important stakeholders for the next few months. I believe and I hope that through this platform we will solve some of the problems that we have identified today.”
“It was created to have an interface that allows easy registration and navigation of functions, such as selecting an accommodation budget and messaging the property merchants.“
Narsoo, an alumnus of Wits, opened the discussion by highlighting that it is important for student accommodation providers to view and engage with the students and educational institutions as co-designers, and not just as consumers. He lauded Fundi for facilitating collaboration and improving the channels of engagement between users, customers, and institutions by launching the new platform. Architect and member of the Property Sector Charter Council, Nonkululeko Bogopa, had some statistics to illustrate the realities of housing issues. Some of these statistics indicated that university enrolment in Africa has increased to 5.2 million students however there is a shortage of 500 000 beds, which is especially relevant to South Africa as it is one of the most popular destinations for tertiary education in Africa. She added to this by encouraging the private sector in South Africa to invest more in the student accommodation market as it is profitable and carries a low business risk. During the State of the Nation Address held on 13 February, President Cyril Ramaphosa committed to providing R64 billion for student accommodation in the next few years. Bogopa made reference to this announcement, describing it as a positive step towards development because it has the potential to encourage more private sector actors to consider entering the market.
“…President Cyril Ramaphosa committed to providing R64 billion for student accommodation…“
Several university students and leaders were also given a chance to speak about their experiences with student accommodation. They explained that the lack of available accommodation is a prevalent problem and also shifted the focus to the poor conditions and services found in accommodation. Some of the common challenges mentioned included dilapidated facilities, no Wi-Fi, and security concerns such as theft. The discussion led to calls for universities to implement stricter rules and regulations for the accreditation process to ensure that residences provide students with higher quality facilities that are safe and conducive to study and live in.
A panel representing South African educational institutions also led an insightful conversation on how to address accommodation challenges. Prof Habib added that the challenges faced in South Africa differ across universities and depend on their different locations. He explained that for universities such as Wits, which are located in the city, there is actually an adequate supply of private accommodation. The problem is that the accommodation that is available is too costly for most university students. There are vulnerable students who do not qualify for funding schemes like The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) but also cannot afford their own accommodation and students who are turned away from residences due to low academic results. Prof Habib stressed the importance of establishing a financing plan that might include bursaries and state funding in order to provide accommodation to these vulnerable students.
“Some of the common challenges mentioned included dilapidated facilities, no Wi-Fi, and security concerns such as theft.“
The Vice-Chancellor of Walter Sisulu University, Professor Rob Midgley, explained that universities that are further from the bigger cities face a different challenge compared to those institutions closer to cities. Even though accommodation providers might be interested in building private student accommodation, there is a lack of infrastructure space. He proposed that government partners and universities should collaborate more to share costs and co-create accommodation infrastructure.
Students can register on www.fundi.co.za.