Better student housing crucial for better higher education, says Rector at international summit

“Higher education is crucial for development and better Student Housing is crucial for better higher education.”

These were the words of Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU) in welcoming delegates to the Student Housing African Summit, presented by the Southern African Chapter of the Association of College and University Student Housing Officers International (ACUHO-I-SAC). SU plays host to the Summit, held at the Wallenberg Research Centre at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Studies (STIAS), this week. The summit ends on Thursday.

Themed, “Re-Creating Futures”, the Summit brings together senior housing officers and senior administrators to discuss the strategic role student housing can play in the renaissance and transformation of further and higher education in Africa.

Prof Botman said that the continent has a wealth of natural resources, but this does not benefit the fast majority of people and that only a small elite gets to profit from Africa’s sound economic growth. “Education is one of the areas lagging behind. This is problematic, because – in the words of Nelson Mandela – ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. For us working in this sector, it is important to note that higher education is a critical pillar of sustainable human development. Higher education imparts knowledge and produces leaders and wealth generators in society.”

He said that the University has distilled five themes from the international development agenda on which to focus its core activities as a university, which is learning and teaching, research and community interaction.”We believe that by eradicating poverty and related conditions; and by promoting human dignity and health; peace and security; democracy and human rights; and a sustainable environment and competitive industry we will change the world. These development themes help to make us a socially engaged institution, which is what we believe universities should be. At Stellenbosch University we aim to produce graduates who have the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and self-confidence to not only make a good living for themselves and their families, but to also make life better for their communities and the rest of society,” he said.

“We have found that the best way to do that is by maintaining academic excellence; and building a value-driven student culture. In our experience, Student Housing is central to the achievement of each of these goals, because it can play a role to aid the academic project; and promote a sense of civic responsibility.

“Our approach is to try and achieve greater integration between students’ classroom and out-of-class experiences. And our mechanism for this is a Residential Education Cluster system. This is aimed at creating living-and-learning communities as an extension of the classroom.”

A number of residences (male, female and co-ed) and private student wards are grouped together in a cluster; they all get to share such facilities as meeting halls and study rooms; lecturers and other speakers are invited to address clusters at mealtime, followed by discussions; senior students act as mentors to juniors; and students provide peer support in study groups, he explained.

Diversity in the student body creates challenges and opportunities for universities the world over, he said. “On the policy level, institutions should promote integration in such aspects as room placement and on the practical level, there should be programmes to help students to get to know each other so that they can live together harmoniously.”

Other keynote speakers included Prof Brian O`Connell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape and Mr Mike Schultz, ACUHO-I President and Director of University Housing at the Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville in the USA.

Mr Pieter Kloppers, Director: Centre for Student Communities at Stellenbosch University and co-organiser, said that the Summit explores the challenges and op¬portunities presented by student housing and develop a common understanding of the contribution of student housing to student development and academic success.

“Today’s students routinely cross borders to spend semesters or entire academic careers in other countries. The chance to experience new cultures and new countries has never been more alluring and necessary considering the global marketplace that awaits them,” Mr Kloppers said. “In this regard the Summit will identify best practices and trends in housing international students and the issues and challenges faced when melding cultures and solutions. In this process we have to have the ability to understand, respond, and react to the changing global landscape in which we – as institutions and individuals – live and work.”

Themes to are explored at the summit include policies, funding, structural design of buildings and learning spaces; residence life and living and learning models; quality assurance systems; environmental and sustainability issues and human resources.

  • Contact Mr Pieter Kloppers at tel 021 808 2810 or via e-mail at pwk@sun.ac.za
  • See www.acuho-i.org  for more information on the Association of College and University Housing Officers
  • To read the Rector’s complete speech click here