CrossBoundary Real Estate

Changes in student housing models across Africa

Key Insights
Changes in student accommodation models across East, West and Southern Africa have been in response to growth in student populations.
Necessity has borne innovative private sector models to address student accommodation deficits.
Student accommodation must evolve alongside student needs.
Changes in student accommodation models across East, West and Southern Africa have been in response to growth in student populations.

This is the third part of a four-part series written by the CrossBoundary Educational Infrastructure team on the evolution of student housing in Africa and its viability as a growing asset class. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

In East Africa

Higher enrollment at both primary and secondary school levels have led to increased enrollment at the university level which has had a direct effect on financing university education. In Kenya, for example, university education, including good quality accommodation at university hostels, was fully financed by the government until 1974.

The responsibility then became shared between the students and the government with each student automatically entitled to a student loan to meet their accommodation and catering services when they qualified to join the university.

Government financing of higher education progressively decreased over time with the trimming of university funding in favor of basic education. This resulted in the deterioration of hostel accommodation facilities offered by universities as they prioritized the allocation of their limited resources to teaching, research, and extension services.

These budget constraints coupled with insufficient land supply, have over time resulted in heavier reliance on the private sector to plug the deficit.

In West Africa

Like East Africa, other educational stakeholders have had to support government efforts in West Africa, either in partnership with government or by solely providing private housing facilities for tertiary students on or off campus.

In Ghana, for instance, student housing provision in institutions of higher learning has mandated government policy for private participation in developing higher education institutions’ economy.

A variety of forms of housing are provided by different institutions of higher learning, including a range of models of ownership and marketing and several purpose-built private sector developments. High quality housing is seen as an aid to marketing the university.

For this reason, new accommodation facilities tend to be built to a much higher standard than traditional halls where the norm is a simple bedroom with shared toilet and bathing facilities. However, conditions of leased buildings are often described as squalid and off-campus private student housing, which was initially perceived as a solution, is still insufficiently regulated. Landlords have taken advantage of the high demand by raising rental prices and students are reeling under the financial burden.

In South Africa

The expansion of student populations went hand-in-hand with the racial desegregation of higher education in South Africa. The transition from apartheid to democracy opened the way for different kinds of fundamental change in South African higher education, of which changes in the demographics of the student bodies of public universities after decades of academic segregation, were among the most dramatic.

From 1994 onwards, universities originally designed to accommodate only white students had to provide housing to a much larger number of students of all races.

The expansion of student numbers in South Africa over the past three decades has meant that most students needed to find off-campus housing.

In response to the overcrowding challenge, the Department of Higher Education and Training released a set of norms and standards and emphasized the role of student housing for learning. Tertiary learning institutions like the University of the Free State (UFS) have incorporated these norms and standards by applying them to their on-campus housing and using them as a guideline for the accreditation of off-campus student housing providers with the assumption that applying them will have positive outcomes for student satisfaction and success.

Necessity has borne innovative private sector models to address student accommodation deficits

The private sector has attempted to plug the student accommodation deficit through three key models:

  • Studentification of neighborhoods that are near universities. This includes housing units available on the existing market that students can afford to rent out over the course of their studies. In this model, the student is responsible for ensuring their own access to the resources they feel are crucial for a proper learning experience, including Wi-Fi and access to reliable electricity. Given adequate accommodation types with these features are often outside the budgets of many students, a common solution has been to cohabit with fellow students.
  • Conversion of standard housing into units intended for student housing. This involves the tenant converting a house or apartment and subletting to several students as a co-living space. In this arrangement, the renter is often in charge of providing all necessary facilities to the students who then pay an all-inclusive rental amount.
  • Formalized student housing by real estate developers. This has involved greenfield developments with modern amenities and typically near a university campus, or with access to reliable transport to and from the study location. These developments are tailored to students’ needs and offer tenants the necessary resources to optimize their learning experience. The demand for this form of housing far exceeds supply and they are often overbooked.

Student accommodation must evolve alongside student needs

Previously, university-provided residence halls were viewed as accommodation designed to provide students with basic, albeit safe and comfortable, living conditions to encourage overall student development. Residence halls on the continent, however, have failed to keep up with the evolution of the student demographic.

Students nowadays demand facilities aligned to the modern lifestyle of the 21st century. Basic requirements for a proper learning experience no longer just include a basic four walls and a roof, but also amenities like high-speed internet, reliable water and electricity supply, leisure amenities, and more. Environmental factors such as noise, safety, and socialization, also play a role in suitability…and with the emergence of Gen Zs as a sustainability generation, aspects like carbon savings and renewable energy sourcing may soon become core factors determining the choice of an accommodation provider.

This is the third part of an ongoing series on student housing in Africa from CrossBoundary Educational Infrastructure. In the final part of our series, we will explore the impact of student housing on learning outcomes.

About CrossBoundary Educational Infrastructure

CrossBoundary Educational Infrastructure, part of CrossBoundary Group, provides financing and development for student and young professional housing and campuses in East Africa. CrossBoundary Educational Infrastructure believes developing human capital can contribute significantly to economic growth in Africa and enabling students and young people to succeed will help realize these gains. Its flagship 540-bed Makazi facility located in Kampala, Uganda will provide students and young professionals with safe, comfortable, and affordable accommodation, unmatched on the market. CrossBoundary Educational Infrastructure is a direct investment platform of CrossBoundary Group.