20 October 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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Accommodation crisis forces students to sleep in tents

Many first-year students are having to sleep in cars, tents or party halls due to continuing accommodation shortages this winter semester, and the German National Association for Student Affairs – Deutsches Studentenwerk or DSW – is calling for more affordable accommodation and more government money to maintain cheap rent levels in its new student hostels.

Most university study programmes start in the winter semester in Germany, and October is the time that the housing problem really comes to a head for students. Germany now has around 2.8 million students, and the student welfare services organised in the DSW have repeatedly warned that accommodation prospects are steadily worsening. Many first-year students have had to sleep in their cars or resort to pitching tents on campsites that are still open.

Around 192,000 students are currently accommodated in the 1,700 student hostels run by the DSW throughout Germany. At €241 (US$286) a month, rent is just below the amount taken as a basis for the BAFöG federal student grant needs calculations.

However, in the university city of Münster, for example, the DSW’s 5,617 flats can only house a mere 10% of all students. In Cologne, the student union has turned a party hall into a makeshift dormitory with mattresses and sanitary installations. In a collaborative effort with the town of Vaals in the Netherlands, Aachen has established a new student hostel immediately on the Dutch border.

“Socially compatible rent levels oriented on the BAFöG figures can only be maintained by the student welfare services if they are backed by government funding,” says DSW Secretary General Achim Meyer auf der Heyde.

“While the number of public-funded places to study has risen by 42% since 2008, government support for housing has only just been enough for the student welfare services to create an additional 5% of hostel accommodation. We must not allow this gap to widen.”

To draw attention to the student housing crisis, the DSW has launched the ‘Kopf braucht Dach’ (‘Brains need roofs’) initiative, calling for more affordable accommodation. The student welfare services above all repeat their demand that state and federal governments join forces to provide funding for more housing.

Meyer auf der Heyde has reminded politicians that the choice of places to study must not depend on how much money students have in their pocket, and insists that affordable housing is an educational justice issue.

Wohnen für Hilfe (lending a hand in return for housing) is a further DSW campaign meant to draw attention to the housing crisis. Now running in 20 cities, the initiative features flat-sharing between young people and senior citizens, with students doing chores such as lawn-mowing, shopping or cooking. Nursing and medical services are excluded.

The scheme is based on a rule of thumb that one hour of work earns a student one metre of accommodation. The student welfare services negotiate accommodation and the chores involved individually, and the initiative is being extended to other groups in society such as families, single parents and disabled people. However, the DSW stresses that it is not meant as a substitute for new hostels.

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