Re-imagining Living and Learning Spaces for Student Communities in Student Cities

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Thembi Nkadimeng Deputy Minister for GOGTA

COGTA Deputy Minister, Thembi Nkadimeng,  Endorses the Student Cities Initiative

The Student Cities Colloquium was hosted on 27-30 April 2022 at the Lagoon Beach Hotel in Milnerton, Cape Town by the Centre for the Study of Student Cities in Africa (CSSCA). The colloquium was convened to create a platform for intellectual engagement on the state of student cities in South Africa, and whether the student cities were safe and responsive to the needs of student communities who lived in these study destinations.

As an erstwhile Alumni of the University of Limpopo (then called the University of the North), the Deputy Minister recollected what may be called the “Tale of Two Students Cities” during her times as a student at the University of the North. Most of the previously disadvantaged African students live and learn in abhorrible conditions in their college towns whilst the privileged student communities have better living experiences in their university cities like Stellenbosch.

One of the points of contention among key issues which we need to debate at this colloquium is the living conditions that our students are exposed to in the student cities. And the inequalities which still mirrors, not only in society but it mirrors also in our student lives! Thembi Nkadimeng, COGTA.

Dr Marcia Socikwa DHET DDG (Left), Thembi Nkadimeng Deputy Minister (Centre), Thamsanqa Maqubela, President of the World Council for Graduates (Right)

The “Tale of Two Students Cities” narrative sought to highlight the comparative experiences of student communities in the towns and cities like Stellenbosch and Potchefstroom compared to the student living conditions in Alice and Mankweng villages. These conditions often have an adverse impact on the retention, throughput, and success outputs of students. Local municipalities have an obligation to improve the student neighborhood and precincts.

“The thought of what student cities need to provide is strongly embedded in the performance of the local municipalities. If COGTA and local municipalities don’t get it right, the foundation and the basics of what makes life for any other person and the students living in that municipality will make issues even more difficult, for the balance and the inequality to be eroded for student cities,” said Deputy Minister Nkadimeng.

The Deputy Minister further added that “It could be easy for the University of Cape Town to arrive where it is today because it is riding on the wave easily so of influence and privilege. That is a wave that the University of the Western Cape would not have, because of the urban design and location – which was not meant to cater to white students. COGTA needs to look at the spatial planning of the current and future student cities towards being comparable student cities in the world.”

What makes a city a good student city? Student Cities should be set up to support and welcome students – in terms of academic resources, but also factors such as the availability of decent and liveable student accommodation, support services for new students, and lots of focused activities, sports, and a vibrant nightlife. Best students’ cities must be safe, affordable, and friendly for student communities. The student cities must also provide employment opportunities for students.

Elsewhere, this is how Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris takes pride in Paris as a world-class student city proud to be ranked as one of the best student cities in the world: “Our youth represents our greatest strength and incarnates our greatest hope. We carry an ambitious politic to make the youth to be able to blossom, be successful, be able to choose, and build their future. We will continue to support students by offering them the best opportunities, in an open, dynamic, and creative city that is responsive to their needs.” And there`s a need for mayors of student cities to take ownership of the conditions of students living in their college towns and university cities.

The Deputy Minister also highlighted the need to develop a national Blueprint or Masterplan for Student Cities in South Africa, to create student cities that are not only attractive and desirable but also student cities that can ideally become the vibrant hubs of knowledge economy and student tourism. The Student Cities Masterplan will be developed in partnership with the South African Council for Planners (SACPLAN), South African Planning Education Institutions; the South African Association of Professional Planners (SAACPP); the South African Planning Institute (SAPI).

COGTA, DHET, CHEC, SAGCRA, SAPS WC, SAFE Campuses LLC, colleges, and universities have been invited to participate in the next Student Cities Colloquium Roadshow to be held on 16-19 June 2022 in eThekwini and 28-30 September 2022 in the City of Tshwane. The Centre for the Study of Student Cities will host the Inaugural African Student Cities on 28-31 April 2023 in the City of Cape Town.