NEW DIGS: This prototype student residence at Stellenbosch University was built using lightweight steel. It took a fraction of the time to build, compared with what would have been the case if brick and mortar was used. Picture: David Ritchie

ILSE FREDERICKS

Education Writer

A SHORTAGE of student accommodation could be eased by employing new building technology, such as that used in constructing a residence, Stellenbosch University says.

The technology allowed for the students’ residence to be built in a fraction of the time it would have taken using bricks and mortar.

Thirty students recently moved into the prototype residence, built using lightweight steel.

The university said about 3 500 students a year who applied for places in its residences could not be accommodated.

Stellenbosch University was constantly looking for new and innovative solutions to the shortage of accommodation, its executive director of operations and finance, Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen, said.

Several presentations by developers on alternative building methods were considered, and the Stag Student Lodge was selected.

The developers agreed to build a prototype. The students would report on their experience in using the building, helping to refine the design.

Stag chief executive John Schooling said bricks and mortar had been seen as upmarket and anything else as “downmarket”.

“But internationally traditional building methods are not the norm,” he said in a statement.

In Australia, Schooling said, modular steel structures had been in use for more than 70 years. But here building regulators had recognised these as acceptable only two years ago.

One of the advantages of modular lightweight steel structure technology was the speed at which the building could be constructed, Schooling said.

Whereas the residence at Stellenbosch took only 40 working days to complete, it would have taken more than eight months using traditional building methods.

The cost was also nearly half of that for traditional methods.

“Modular lightweight steel structures have the advantages of a permanent structure, but can be dismantled and reused. This dramatically reduces the carbon footprint,” Schooling said.

In May, the Department of Higher Education said it had prioritised improving accommodation at universities as one of the measures aimed at curbing high drop-out rates.

The department set up a committee headed by Professor Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, to review the provision of student accommodation.

In 2010/11 and 2011/12, the department allocated R686 million for building and refurbishing residences.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said in May that there was “a crisis in student housing”. Only 18.5 percent of students stayed in university-owned accommodation.

According to the acting deputy director-general for universities, Kirti Menon, there was evidence to suggest that students who lived in residences fared better than those who travelled to campus. The 2001 National Plan for Higher Education said the 15 percent university pass rate was one of the lowest in the world.

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