Nobody wants to tackle student housing shortage in Burundi
To reach Beneyo’s room, one needs to walk through several other buildings before climbing a flight of stairs leading to the rooms.
Beneyo, who studies at the University of Burundi, the biggest university in the country, is embarrassed about the dwelling and is hesitant to show what it looks like. The place is called the 14th Pavilion.
The University of Burundi comprises 13 pavilions or building sections, and provides education to about 12,000 students spread across seven campuses. Whereas, the number of students enrolling in higher learning education has been increasing over the years, little has been done to provide them with accommodation. Only 3,000 can be accommodated in student housing on campus.
“We trek a long distance each morning to study, come back for lunch, and go to the campus again,” Beneyo said. “It is very tiring, but we have no other choice. This place is affordable. Houses near the university are too expensive.”
Mismatch between accommodation, student growth
The room Beneyo lives in measures three square meters. The tenants managed to fit in three beds, and two students often share one bed. “We [each] contribute to the rent, which is BIF100,000 [about US$35],” she said, adding that it is hard to raise the money, given their other study expenses.
“We met accidentally, and we are living this hard life together. The housing issues have not been taken care of by universities and it is a challenge for us as it affects our learning process,” Beneyo said. “We walk a long distance every day. Sometimes we are late for classes or opt to miss some, especially in the afternoons.”
Many other students are also affected by the housing shortage. In some areas, up to 11 students share one room.
“Such poor living conditions, due to the shortage of housing, affect one’s academic performance,” said Charles Muhanuka, a student from Wisdom University, a private university in Bujumbura. He said that the rent has increased three times in the past three years in Bujumbura. He is currently paying BIF200,000 (about US$71) a month for the two-bedroomed house he shares with three roommates.
“It is so hectic,” Muhanuka said. “One has to walk more than 10km a day, as we struggle to get transport. We end up getting tired or delayed for classes. Some others opt to miss classes.”
Due to the high demand for housing, property owners also tend to increase the rental fees at will, which keeps pushing students to choose accommodation far from their university campuses. Most rental houses are on the outskirts of Bujumbura, mainly in the Ngagara, Bwiza, and Nyakabiga zones.
Some students complain about the long distances they walk daily to access education, saying it is tiring and affects education. A third-year student at the University of Burundi said students who receive government scholarships must find affordable accommodation, which is usually far from the campus and very old.
“We also find it hard to pay the rent every month because we often get our living allowances on a quarterly basis,” he added, emphasising that some property owners cannot wait so long, and many students are evicted due to non-payment.
Jeanine Nibizi, an owner of houses rented by students in Mugoboka on the outskirts of Bujumbura, said she is used to students who pay their rent late.
“We agree on a monthly payment of the fees. But, often, the students apologise and go for up to five months or more without paying,” she said, confirming that some owners then evict students.
Pierre Nduwayo is a student at the International University of Equator in Bujumbura. He and his two friends have just been evicted by the owner of the house after they failed to raise the BIF120,000 (US$42) they have to pay monthly.
“We have been struggling to pay regularly. We were evicted when a Congolese student offered double the rent fee,” said Nduwayo, who lives in the Buyenzi area, west of Bujumbura.
“It is surely the precariousness of the living conditions that we live in that negatively impacts our academic results. Many students have returned home because life is unbearable,” said another student, who lives 3km from the University of Burundi.
Living with host families
Some students who come from afar say they opt for living with host families because they cannot afford to raise rental fees for accommodation, which is also far from the universities. This, however, also has a downside.
“In the first days, the foster family welcomes you and takes care of you since you come with small contributions at the start of the year,” said a student only willing to be identified as Ndayikunda. “But, when you have nothing left, that’s when the problems start. The same family hosting you now sees you as a burden,” she added.
Living conditions affect studies
Lecturers agree that difficult living conditions associated with the student housing shortage affect academic results.
Professor Alphonse Minani, a lecturer at the University of Burundi, agrees that, when students arrive late and tired, they either sleep in class or stay in class without eating anything at lunchtime. “The results may not be what we would like to have,” he said, adding that students who must trek 15km to 20km a day to get to campus study in unfavourable conditions.
A senior staff member at the University of Burundi, who preferred not to be named, said that the university cannot invest more in student accommodation. “We would like our students to be in favourable working conditions, but you understand very well that social issues are not the responsibility of the university,” he said.
“The government is no longer concerned with student housing. No money is provided in the general state budget for housing,” he added, stressing that government-sponsored students, who form the majority of those enrolled at the university, should use living allowances to get accommodation.
The government covers these students’ tuition and provides living allowances. This is repayable when a student graduates and finds a job. Students who benefit from government sponsorship pay 10% of net salaries or monthly earnings to service their loans.