Students protest against lack of campus accommodation

One month after the start of the academic year in Egypt, thousands of students at various public universities have staged protests against lack of availability of accommodation in state-subsidised residences.

They have complained of lack of attention paid by their universities to student dormitories and have threatened to protest outside the presidential palace, which has recently been the focal point of many labour strikes.

"Since the beginning of classes, I have had to stay with relatives in Cairo because I have not yet been allowed to stay at the university hostel due to unfinished maintenance work," said Mahmoud Abdel Rahman, a third-year engineering student at Cairo University, the country's biggest public university.

"Almost two years after the revolution, conditions in universities are not better. Negligent administrators should be punished for having failed to make dorms ready to accommodate students coming from faraway areas.

"We have been told that the current maintenance works are costing LE12 million (US$2 million). But many dorms do not need maintenance. This wastes money and time," said Mahmoud, who hails from Beni Sueif, a city in southern Egypt.

A popular revolt forced Egypt's long-standing president Hosni Mubarak to step down in February last year and triggered mass student protests against lecturers and administrators perceived to be loyal to the old regime.

But Amr Hamdi, a student at the state-owned Helwan University in southern Cairo, does not believe much has improved.

"Negligence is still pervasive in university hostels.” He also claimed that services offered in dorms are "in decline".

He continued: "Not all students have been accommodated until now. Only those who passed last year’s exams with estimates of 'excellent' and 'very good' have been allowed in."

He claimed that students with lower grades had been “requested by the hostel administration to pay the full price of the food service, despite the fact that the state subsidises accommodation in these dorms with LE600 per student”.

Officials at Helwan University denied that surcharges were being levied. "This is not true. The subsidised services for students cover accommodation and food," said Yasser Saqr, the university's president.

"The university has a policy to accommodate eligible students in stages," he said, attributing delays in accommodating students partly to the lack of a database, because students keep transferring from the university to other institutions that are near their hometowns.

Meanwhile, Cairo University has promised that accommodation problems will be solved within a week.

"The university is keen to accommodate all applicants, mainly the fresh students coming from remote areas," said Ezz Eddin Abu Steit, the university's vice-president for student affairs.

He added that dorms were being renovated and expanded to accommodate 14,000 students and that some students, including those injured in the anti-Mubarak revolution, “have already been accommodated and exempted of accommodation fees”.

Abu Steit said that maintenance at the university hostel buildings started in mid-July, following final-year examinations, and had mostly been completed.

"Maintenance works have been carried out according to the law. Anyone having proof of irregularities has to come forward."