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Call for pact to tackle affordable student housing shortage

The German Student Welfare Service or Deutsches Studentenwerk (DSW), which represents Germany’s 58 student services organisations, has made an urgent appeal to federal and state governments to provide more housing for students.

Prices have been soaring on the German housing market, with demand also rising because of the poor interest rates on bank savings and other private investments. This is also pushing rent levels up, making affordable accommodation hard to come by for many of Germany’s 2.8 million students.

The housing problem becomes particularly visible at the beginning of semesters, when many students are forced to resort to makeshift accommodation in gyms and other semi-public facilities.

With federal elections coming up in September, DSW has called on politicians to consider introducing a 'Higher Education Social Pact' between the federal and state governments along the lines of similar arrangements already under way to boost university and research performance.

Over the next four years, DSW maintains, investment totalling roughly €3.3 billion (US$3.6 billion) will be required for student housing – around €2 billion for the creation of cheap hostel accommodation for students throughout Germany and about €1.3 billion for the renovation of hostel facilities in order to maintain already existing affordable housing.

To implement these measures, the student services organisations would have to be provided with a €1.45 billion federal and state subsidy, DSW says. It could raise the balance itself with its own assets and via loans.

“Students’ choice of a place to study must not depend on their parents’ wallet,” said DSW General Secretary Achim Meyer auf der Heyde, opening the organisation’s Student Hostel Conference in Konstanz, southern Germany on 12 May. “This is a question of educational justice. Politicians have to do something to ensure that students can still find affordable housing where they are studying.”

The level of commitment to address the issue varies among the federal states, according to Meyer auf der Heyde, but he would also like to see the federal government make a greater effort.

“The Excellence Initiative and the Higher Education and Research Pacts have shown that the federal and state governments can cooperate successfully in the higher education field,” he noted. “So why shouldn’t this work with affordable student housing?”

Meyer auf der Heyde also referred to progress made in a number of federal states, and explicitly praised Thuringia state’s move to transfer Higher Education Pact funds totalling €15 million to the renovation of existing student hostel facilities. “The best example of supporting student hostel accommodation is Bavaria, which de facto provides a subsidy of €32,000 per hostel place,” he said.

Michael Gardner Email: michael.gardner@uw-news.com
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