The politics of student housing: Student activism and representation in the determination of the user-price of a public–private partnership residence on a public university campus in South Africa
South African universities have been facing a critical shortage in the provision of student housing for several years now, and the establishment of public–private partnerships (PPPs) is seen as part of the solution to address the shortage (Rensburg, 2011). This article investigates the effectiveness of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in representing student interests during its negotiations with university management to reduce the user-price per student for the new Kovacs Residence, a PPP student housing complex on the UWC campus. It thus highlights some of the complexities involved in public–private collaborations on student housing provision, including the tension between profitability, affordability and equity in the face of organised student power.
The article shows that, considering the various initiatives taken by the SRC to engage university management, and the resulting reduction of the user-price per annum, students’ interests were effectively represented by the SRC, even if this view does not correspond with the perceptions of students. Our analysis uncovers many deficiencies in student representation processes both within student structures and university management. It is supported by data from in-depth interviews and a focus group discussion. Interviews were conducted with SRC members and university management, and a focus group discussion was facilitated with students in residences.
Keywords: Higher education; university administration; student politics; student housing; activism; representation; social justice; public–private partnerships