Stress for NTU's international students who can't secure on-campus housing

Mr Bryan Galenius, from Indonesia, described not knowing whether he could get accommodation as being "stuck in limbo". ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - International students at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are scrambling for alternative accommodation after they failed to secure on-campus housing for the coming school year due to a shortage of spaces.

More than 2,600 undergraduate students - both local and foreign - were informed on June 1 that their applications were rejected, with many having to vacate their current rooms by July 15.

An NTU spokesman told The Straits Times that the 23 residential halls - which can accommodate more than 13,600 students - will be operating at full capacity this year.

He added that this year's intake is similar to previous years, numbering at more than 6,000 students admitted. But the university is facing "strong demand for on-campus housing that outstrips supply by about 20 per cent", he said.

A similar situation occurred last year when NTU announced it would reduce hall occupancy for Covid-19 and other related purposes, but that was reversed the next day after it reviewed its hall capacity and the extent of Singapore's vaccination efforts.

With hall spaces guaranteed for first- and second-year students, many of those in their third and fourth years this year have found themselves without a room, prompting them to set up a Telegram group to share updates with one another.

As at July, the group has more than 1,500 members.

They conducted an informal survey to determine the number of students who are affected. Out of 418 respondents, more than half are international ones.

Those who did not get a hall placing are placed on a wait list, which NTU will review and extend offers from the end of July.

But international students ST spoke to said they have little time to seek alternative arrangements - although they acknowledged that on-campus housing is not guaranteed after their second year of studies.

Describing it as being "stuck in limbo", mechanical engineering student Bryan Galenius, 20, said many places outside have minimum rental periods, and the possibility of the school letting him stay on after he signs a contract has contributed to his indecision.

"Off-campus housing costs two times more than staying in a hall. For international students like myself, the rental makes up a major part of our expenditure. This just adds on to the financial burden for us and our families overseas," said the Indonesian.

Rental costs outside have also increased due to the property market heating up, said engineering student Arvind Kumar.

The Indian national added that many listings rule out certain races. Vacancies have also been snapped up quickly, leaving him with few alternatives.

The 21-year-old said: "I'm at a loss - financially and mentally. I don't have a home to fall back on if I'm evicted. I might even have to consider dropping out of school if the rental fees outside are too expensive."

Vietnamese student Le Ha Phuong, 21, said the entire situation has left her confused and disappointed. "A lot of us international students don't take hall stay for granted, which is why we sign up for many activities," said the humanities student.

While NTU does not guarantee hall accommodation for students after their second year, students who are actively involved in activities earn hall points, which give them better odds of staying on.

"I juggled between three different student committees on top of my studies, working part-time jobs and doing an internship the past academic year, thinking that being active in school would help secure a place," said Ms Le.

"Housing outside is inaccessible for international students because of the high costs, so I just hope the school will consider our situation and help us remain on campus."

Ms Le Ha Phuong, from Vietnam, said the entire situation has left her confused and disappointed. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Acknowledging that some students face difficult financial situations, the NTU spokesman said it has financial assistance schemes to help defray their living costs.

He added that NTU also offers free shuttle bus services from heartland locations to the campus, including Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Gombak, Pasir Ris, Punggol, Sengkang, Tampines, Yishun and Novena.

"Our students' well-being is our upper-most priority. We will continue to assist our students in various ways, including those with specific difficulties or needs," he said.

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