In the 21st century it is expected to study abroad. The advantages of studying in another country range from getting to know new cultures to improving foreign language skills to spreading one’s wings. A really important decision when studying abroad is the choice of accommodation. Its form may be motivated by need, but also by the students’ preferences.
The supply of accommodation for students is in many countries subject to social policies. Many factors play an important role for the student: fees, furniture, room- and/or housemates and location.
11.4% of students are living in a student hall.
According to the EUROSTUDENT IV database are 6.5% of students that are living with their parents are dissatisfied with their accommodation. 9.7 % of students who are neither living with their parents nor in student halls are dissatisfied as well. However most students that are dissatisfied with their accommodation (13.1%) are those living in student halls.
Many students have to live with a small budget. The average student didn’t work fulltime before; take out a loan to finance his study; get support by his/her parents or work in part-time jobs.
In Ireland the average rent in student halls is €400 a month, according to EUROSTUDENT. The costs in Dublin are quite higher: A single room in the Griffith Halls of Residence (GHR) including utilities costs €924, in the Trinity halls €650 plus €61 for utilities and €528 to €740 in the student halls of the University College Dublin (plus €51 for utilities). Shared rooms cost in the Trinity halls €499 a month, in GHR €597. As a result we can see that they are all over the average.
What do students get for the expensive rent? The GHR fees includes:
Electricity, Wi-Fi broadband Internet, communal area maintenance, refuse/bin charges, 24 hour manned security, access to a fitness room (limited) and library, bike and car parking and water rates.
Sounds fair, so far. The student hall is fitted with a kitchen for four people, a living room with two settees, two bedrooms, each with two beds and small bathrooms. There is no oven, instead a microwave with grill function and the fridge has to be shared by all four residents.
To make a living with 664 residents in the GHR possible, it is important to set up rules placed in the lease contract. These rules can be defined individually. It just has to be asked: Even if the rules are legal and correct; are they still ethical?
Three cases that happened in GHR shall give a better insight to get an idea of it. It is necessary to fine student for damages and demolitions. Damages have to be calculated differently depending on course of events and intentionality.
Walaa Ajjawi is a student in Griffith College Dublin and at the same time member of the GHR on campus. In the kitchen of her apartment was a burnt counter. GHR told the former residents of the apartment to pay a €700 fine for the damages.
They never might reckon such high amount. That is why they tried to appeal against it– but it didn’t work. Then they wanted to see the calculation for the reparation costs; this request was refused as well. So the residents called an expert on their own for a cost forecast.
According to the expert the reparation that he could do himself would costs at maximum €350. Sales manager Daniel Cunningham wouldn’t comment “on specific cases as they are private matters.” The case is still in progress but the course of action is dubious.
Another case is about an eviction of a minor student. The student was evicted due to a triggered fire alarm in the GHR. The contract that every member signed says:
Fire Alarm – GHR operates a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to any Resident found tampering with the fire detection system. Any Resident(s) responsible for a ‘false alarm’ shall face eviction. Residents are referred to the Fire Services Act 1981, penalties include both a €634 fine and a six month jail sentence at the discretion of the court. Residents are fully responsible for the actions of their guest(s) / visitor(s).
A guest of the student pushed the fire alarm by accident. As a result the student was evicted with a €634 fine. He or she appealed the eviction but GHR rejected the appeal and it was without doubt their right to do so.
However, furthermore the students also did not get her accommodation fees back. Due to one specific rule in the contract:
The kitchen/sitting room area and hallway of the Apartments are fitted with a local smoke & heat detector and alarm siren all of which are connected to a centrally monitored system. Any Resident found tampering with or covering any such detector(s) will be evicted without refund.
Summarized: A minor student had to pay €634, got evicted and did not get her whole accommodation fees back for accidentally pressing the fire alarm.
The last case addressed most of the members of GHR. Many apartments got a letter about electricity saying the following:
An electricity reading of your apartment shows that your apartment is using a lot more electricity than the average apartment.” It also said that if this does not reduce, extra charges might be applied.
How is the average set up? As 27 of 50 apartments said they got this letter, something cannot be right. It would mean that every second apartment is over the average using a lot more electricity than others.
The usage is paid for through your fees but a fair usage policy applies. If apartments are above average then they have received a warning letter to advise them to take steps to reduce their usage. This would be standard in any place that has utilities included in the price.
This didn’t explain how the average has been set up. Is it a fixed figure that was determined at some point or an individual figure that depends on the usage every year? To clarify this and other questions Cunningham referred me to the legal department. After contacting Stephen Roberts, Head of Marketing in Griffith College Dublin, he told me that the questions has to be answered by the GHR-team.
It is based on usage by all apartments and previous year data is used also to compare this. The amount varies from month to month depending on temperature and time of year,
said Cunningham after questioning again. How is it then possible that so many apartments got this letter? It raises suspicion of intimidation.
One resulting problem of all this is a fear among the students to complain. The lease contract is strict and consists of many punishments in form of €100 fines. Even if it is legal for GHR to claim these fines; another question might be: How ethical it is to fine such large amounts?
The rules of other student halls in Dublin are similar and very often students feel more like prisoners than lessee’s. “Most of the decisions regarding sanctions are made on the Residence assistants (RA) reports of his/her observations,” says Paul Mucchielli, member of the UCD halls.
Sometimes we think of the RAs more like Police than actual assistants.
The contract lease rules of the UCD halls are similar to these of GHR and so is the furniture. In contrast to the rules of the Trinity halls as they allow letting people stay after 10.30pm (which is forbidden at the other halls). On the other hand Trinity halls cut down the hot water between 11pm and 6am, which “is a real pain for me and for everyone else”, says Alienor Delannay, member of the hall.
Coming back from going out and not being able to shower? I hate it.
So why would a student from abroad look for an accommodation in a halls of residence? Most of all: to meet and get to kno
w students and friends. Many students are living in halls that make it easy to build up a new social environment within weeks. Beyond that most halls are close to colleges. And even though the furniture is not the best, you have everything you need: a working kitchen and bathroom, hot water (in most cases), a desk and a warm bed.
To decide which accommodation fits you best depends on your preferences and claims. Student halls work how they work and it is too difficult to complain successfully in any case. Students have to accept its rules or look for another flat.