The cost of building residences for university students is R240 000 per bed, according to a report tabled by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande at a media briefing in Cape Town on Wednesday.

The 271-page document, titled “A Review of the Provision of Student Housing at South African Universities”, was compiled by University of Johannesburg vice chancellor Ihron Rensburg.

Its findings are based on an assessment of 49 campuses.

According to the document, there is a severe shortage of accommodation for students, and a quarter of existing university residences and adjoining facilities are in an “unsatisfactory or poor condition”.

An estimated R4.4 billion is required to make these habitable.

“Around a quarter of all infrastructure, fixtures, fittings and dining hall facilities are assessed by the universities concerned to be in an unsatisfactory or poor condition.

“The value of the current national maintenance and refurbishment backlog is R2.5bn. If the existing residence stock is to be modernised to render the residences 'fit for purpose', then a further R1.9bn is required.”

The report found there were 107 598 university residence beds available in 2010, which accommodated 20 percent of enrolled full-time students.

“It is estimated that the current residence bed shortage is approximately 195 815....” The “per bed construction cost” was R240 000.

“The cost of overcoming this shortage over a period of 10 years is estimated at R82.4 billion,” according to the report.

Responding to questions on the high cost of so-called per bed construction – the figure is between five and eight times higher than the cost of an RDP house – Rensburg said the R240 000 included all the “underlying” infrastructure.

“What we refer to by bed here means a single room... it includes the underlying infrastructure – water, electricity and so on.”

It also included the cost of dining, lounge and ablution facilities.

According to the report's executive summary, “student residence debt” grew from about R67 million in 2006, to about R85m in 2009.

Nzimande told journalists that while the private sector was “a significant contributor and stakeholder in the provision of accommodation to students”, it needed to be regulated.

Asked to elaborate on this, he said: “We need to have a standard so we don't get these exorbitant charges by private complex owners.”

Certain minimum standards had to be set.

“The study indicates that the provision of private student accommodation is unregulated in South Africa, allowing widespread exploitation of students and exposure of students to various types and levels of risk.

“As a result, we need to be very careful about the role of the private sector as it does come with risks of exploitation, especially if left unregulated.”

Student enrolment in South Africa's universities was expected to grow at an average rate of 2.8 percent from last year to 2013.

Nzimande said one disturbing discovery in the review's findings was that many students went hungry.

“(It) found that some students go for days without a meal, and sadly, this was found to be a particularly serious problem among first year students,” he said. – Sapa