Review of hall vacancies sends NTU students scrambling for alternative accommodation

Occupancy in the university's halls of residence will be reduced for Covid-19 reasons. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Nanyang Technological University said late Thursday night (July 1) it was reviewing if it could let more students stay on campus in the coming school year after a shock announcement earlier in the day that hall occupancy would be reduced for Covid-19 isolation and other related purposes.

The earlier announcement had sent thousands of students scrambling to find alternatives before the start of the school year next month. Many are international students who are currently still in the halls as they do not have local residence.

It is understood students now would not have to move out by July 15, as earlier announced.

In a reply to queries from The Straits Times, NTU said it had to review the number of hall places because of safe management measures, and that this year's demand for hall places had been "exceptionally strong".

"However, with vaccinations now well underway and a good vaccination rate expected, as well as other safe management measures that we intend to apply, we are currently reviewing the capacity to allow more students to stay on campus," said a spokesman for the university. He said updates would be provided in the next few days.

More than 4,700 students had signed a petition appealing against the earlier announcement.

Amid the scramble by students to find alternative accommodations when they were first told to move out, the NTU Students' Union sent an e-mail at 6pm telling them to stay put as it was working with the university to find more housing.

Applications for some 14,000 vacancies across 24 halls of residence must be made every year.

Foreign residents said they had remained in their halls last year, even as other students returned home during the circuit breaker, when weekly cases were in the hundreds. Students had feared their plans would be thrown into disarray, with many worried about financial issues and disrupted schedules.

Malaysian business student Rachel Ng, 23, said she began hunting for apartments online the moment she saw the notice at 1am. If told to vacate, she may have to fork out the rent herself as her scholarship covers only accommodation on campus.

"I have to get another job and try to make it work in order to pay rent," said the third-year student.

Mr Shoon Zhen Yong, a third-year student leader of a union of some 500 Malaysian students on campus, told The Straits Times that nearly all his friends in the group had been rejected.

He said: "Last year, the cases were worse but (NTU was) able to afford them housing. Now that most of us are at least half-vaccinated, why do they suddenly want to move most of the students out?"

Vietnamese student Le Ha Phuong, 20, said rental fees could double, looking at off-campus apartments she found online. "My family's finances are not strong and I pay for all the hall fees myself," said the third-year humanities student.

One of the petition's creators, Malaysian student Jean Ku Week, 21, said a survey they had done found that 90 per cent of nearly 1,000 respondents had been rejected. Nearly half of the respondents were foreign students.

Many students who were guaranteed a place in a hall had also been turned down, including first- and second-year students and those with high extra-curricular activity points.

Second-year English Literature student Benedict Kwok, 24, said: "Most of my classes this semester are still on-campus, so I didn't imagine that they would have restricted hall stay so drastically." If he can't stay on campus, his daily commute from Bishan could take three hours.

Accountancy student Ruben Selvaraju, 22, thought he would have his room for a second year.

He said: "We were all expecting it to be as per normal, given that the Covid situation has more or less stabilised... I think we are really disappointed by the lack of transparency from our school."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.