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R64bn for accommodation - Ramaphosa's Sona 2020 promise for homeless students

Many students don’t have places to sleep after lectures and resort to sleeping in libraries and other places on campus.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the State of the Nation Address on 13 February 2020. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG - President Cyril Ramaphosa spent some time during his fourth State of the Nation Address on Thursday focusing on students and the challenges they faced.

Over the last few years, students have protested for free tertiary education. While the president didn't promise education funded by government for all, he did speak about the 720,000 students who received state funding for TVET colleges and universities last year.

He said government intended to build nine new TVET college campuses in 2020. They would be in Sterkspruit, Aliwal North, Graaff Reinet and Ngungqushe in the Eastern Cape, and in Umzimkhulu, Greytown, Msinga, Nongoma and Kwagqikazi in KwaZulu-Natal.

"Through bilateral student scholarship agreements we have signed with other countries, we are steadily building a substantial cohort of young people who go overseas each year for training in critical skills," the president said, highlighting the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Training Programme in Cuba, which has produced over 1,200 medical doctors. He added a further 640 students were expected to graduate through this programme by the end of the year.

"This programme is a living monument to these two great revolutionaries."

With Ekurhuleni being the only metro in the country without a university, the president said government would establish a new University of Science and Innovation in that area.

"This will enable young people in that metro to be trained in high-impact and cutting-edge technological innovation for current and future industries," he said.

But the president underscored issues students faced regarding accommodation.

"The young people who are at university and TVET Colleges face serious accommodation challenges," he said.

"Some don’t even have places to sleep after lectures and resort to sleeping in libraries," he said.

In November, EWN reported on Wits University Masters students not having their bursaries paid out as promised by the Arts and Culture Department.

In March last year, EWN also reported on the same university being in talks with the City of Joburg to assist with buildings for student accommodation.

On Thursday the president spoke about infrastructure plans that included accommodation for students.

"The Infrastructure Fund implementation team has finalised the list of shovel-ready projects and has begun work to expand private investment into public infrastructure sectors with revenue streams. These include areas like student accommodation, social housing, independent water production, rail freight branch lines, embedded electricity generation, municipal bulk infrastructure, and broadband roll-out," he said.

The project has potential investments of over R700 billion over the next 10 years, he said, and included both government and non-government contributions.

"We are going to spend R64 billion over the next years in student accommodation and will leverage at least another R64 billion in private investment," he said, adding that the project was ready to go.