COVID19 hit universities around the world quite hard. It imposed a new modality for teaching and learning: the virtual world. For some students it was a reasonable transition, for others it came with unique challenges. Universities had to find ways to respond and support the provision of higher education in a new normal.
The advent of virtual higher education is not new, and there are merits to the shift toward online learning. On the other hand, the cognitive experiences derived from physical exchanges in a chemical and neurological sense is implausible to replicate as the lecture hall reverberates the facilitator’s voice and questions bounce back and forth in a focused session.
As a result, the virtual option in the long-run is attractive, but will probably remain valuable in certain type of curricula but not all. Thus, we should still expect students to commute to higher education institutions.
Student travel demand
Student travel demand is derived from two primary factors: (a) increasingly ‘affordable’ higher education, termed ‘fee-free higher education’; and (b) the concomitant rise in student population which drives housing demand.
These two forces have induced the emergence of student housing incentive programmes, public-private partnership projects and start-ups aimed at unleashing the higher education housing market. Over the years, universities in SA have had to coordinate and manage travel demand in response to the inherent nature of ‘university precincts’.
Of course local municipalities, transport planning and relevant stakeholders such as transport operators should be involved, but this is not always the case. International evidence does reveal that there are different ways to getting around to managing student travel demand.
Identifying the gaps
In our recent paper, the primary concern was to identify what the gaps may be in the context of the South African student mobility market. Particularly from a transport planning perspective.
So, how else but to follow a policy process to help understand different approaches from an international perspective and try bring these into the SA policy context.
It became clear in the process of doing this initial assessment, that there are some 12 880 recorded education related trips from a sample of 50 000 or so in the National Household Travel Survey of 2013. Only a small share of those were for higher education, about 1200, even less for TVET colleges (842), and less so for other colleges (203). Which explained why the strong focus on the Learner Transport Policy (LTP) in SA. The LTP is focused specifically on basic education commuting children, they are usually under the age of 18 and travel to a large number of school and extramural destinations.
Many of which have exceptionally long travel distances, as I’ve noted before in a previous study. However, there was no research related to student mobility management, especially from a transport policy for planning perspective.
The need for mobility management
Generally speaking, the paper shows how different universities have tried to find ways to cope with the student mobility issues and demands in their precincts. We list 7 universities, and indicate various interventions that they have introduced up to 2019. There is no standard way to getting around, although the student profiles and environments maybe similar (that’s just my opinion, we will test this in future).
Internationally it is quite clear that universities have made very interesting and empowering interventions. Some have student run transport companies, others have partnerships with local transport authorities, and in between there are universal access tickets which get students using public transport at a fixed fee included in their tuition.
In an interesting podcast with Aldrin Sampear on PowerFM, he asked who should be responsible: universities or the state. This turns out to be a controversial question, but less controversial to answer.
The evidence suggests that the universities are only facilitators—mediating the relationship between the municipality, students and transport operators. This requires a mobility manager who serves to coordinate this function.
While the study does make some recommendations based on the literature, it is quite interesting to note how the interplay between the need for policy reform and changes in mobility management at higher education precincts introduces a new wave of questions.
What if every node was considered a precinct and transport-land-use planning was motivated by this “what-if”?
You can read the full article here: “Identifying transport policy gaps in student travel demand management in South Africa”, Journal of Transport and Supply Chain Management.