Prospects for better living conditions for students look bleak

Every day, Monique Uwizeye walks about 4km from her home to the Nyarugenge-based College of Science of Technology (UR-CST), one of the colleges of the University of Rwanda.

Uwizeye and three fellow students managed to rent one room in a student house, which they share with other tenants. “We tried to get an affordable room near the campus, all in vain. Rent is very expensive because it is in town,” she said. “We, therefore, opted to go a bit farther away. The issue here is the distance as we often have to wake up early to get ready.”

Uwizeye and her roommates are government-sponsored students and receive a monthly living allowance of RF40,000 (about US$34). Their accommodation costs RF50,000 per month (about US$53), and each roommate contributes RF12,500 (US$10.7) to cover the rent.

Rental increases not regulated

“Though we went a bit far [to find a place], the rental cost still takes the lion’s share from what we get as a living allowance if you look at other expenses such as food, toiletries and other necessities,” Uwizeye said.

She is afraid that the rental amount could rise at any moment. “Rent fees increase as often as the landlord wishes because there is no regulation; besides, the demand increases so fast, we compete with business people who could offer to pay more.”

There are more than 5,000 students at the UR-CST, but only 540 students are accommodated on campus. The college accommodates fewer than 10% of the number of students who study there. There are 392 names on the final list for accommodation in 2022-23.

Two new hostels are in the final stages of construction, which will offer accommodation to 920 students.

Majority of students live off-campus

Even with the added accommodation, thousands of students are still forced to live off-campus in the Nyarugenge district.

Pacifique Murenzi, a second-year student at the Kigali Independent University, said he faces similar challenges. He stays in a place called Kacyiru in Gasabo district, a suburb of Kigali.

“I decided to live far from the campus because it is congested around there, and the rent fee is too high. My brother studies at another university, and we decided to look for a rental in between so that we share the accommodation,” he said.

Murenzi and his brother and two roommates live in a two-bedroomed house that costs them RF120,000 (US$102.5) per month. “To reach the school, I need to find transport, or I will go on foot, which happens often,” he said.

Housing crisis is widespread

The housing issue is not only in the capital city of Kigali. In the Huye district in the southern province, which is considered an education area since it houses the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), the University of Rwanda’s biggest college, the accommodation situation is the same.

Although the private sector has invested in student housing, government-sponsored students cannot afford it.

Michelline Uwamahoro and seven other students share one house, which has a toilet and a bathroom inside. “A small house with two bedrooms and a sitting room costs RF80,000 [about US$68]. We use the sitting room as a bedroom as well; it was the only option, as four people could not afford to pay the rental fee,” she said.

Students who look for more affordable housing must look even further away from campus and forgo basic amenities such as inside toilets and bathrooms.

Accommodation capacity only 20%

That is the case of Jean Pierre Munezero, who lives in Rango, about 5km from CASS in Huye.

“It is tiring to walk from home to the campus. I use about 50 minutes every morning to go to school and more than one hour in the evening to get back,” he said. He and his roommates prepare food in the morning and eat before they leave home. If not, they skip lunch which affects their learning ability, Munezero lamented. “You can hardly get affordable rent around the campus.”

The University of Rwanda, the sole public higher learning institution in the country and the biggest in general with more than 30,400 students, can provide accommodation to only 20% of its students, according to Dr Didas Kayihura Muganga, the university’s acting vice-chancellor.

“We are building our capacity. We are looking for ways to increase our infrastructure, especially hostels to accommodate more students as we have a serious shortage,” he said.

On-campus housing reserved

For students who are housed on campus, the rent is between RF4,000 and RF6,500 (US$3.5-US$5.5). Muganga said that negotiations are ongoing to see if the rent can be reduced to RF4,000, depending on the rooms.

First-year students, especially women, students with disabilities, and those with special circumstances such as coming from very far away, get preference in on-campus accommodation at the different colleges, according to Ignatius Kabagambe, the university’s spokesperson.

At private universities and higher learning institutions, building classrooms and other academic infrastructure was prioritised at the expense of student accommodation. This is due to a lack of funds, said a private university owner in Kigali, who asked not to be identified.

“This should be an investment for other private players, however. There is a need for accommodation where there is a university because it helps students learn without hindrance. Those trekking long distances find it hard to study well,” he said.

Government has other priorities

According to Jean Paul Rugamba, a civil engineer in the City of Kigali and a real estate developer, the government cannot invest in student accommodation as it has other priorities.

He said that the private sector can tap into the opportunities and invest in student housing, but progress is slow as it is not seen as a viable business compared to other opportunities. There are more than 25 universities and higher learning institutions in Rwanda, according to the Higher Education Council.

“Investment in residential or commercial housing is more lucrative,” said Rugamba.

He added, however, that there is a need for public-private partnerships to ensure affordable accommodation for students closer to the campuses.

“There should be collaboration between government and the private sector. For instance, the government can avail land and ensure other subsidies such as on construction materials. It can also link the private sector with banks so that they get affordable and long-term loans,” he added.