SINGAPORE, July 2 — Some international students at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are scrambling to find shelter as the university has given them two weeks to find alternative housing arrangements.
In rejection letters sent on early yesterday (July 1) morning to both Singapore and foreign students who had applied for campus accommodation, the university said that it has had to reduce the number of residents who can live on campus because of Covid-19 restrictions.
In the letter, which was seen by TODAY, NTU said: “Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there is a cap on the number of students staying in the halls imposed by the authorities, and fewer rooms are available because of the need to reserve a certain number for Covid-19 isolation and other related purposes.”
For applicants who are still staying on campus, they were also told to vacate their rooms by July 15, less than two weeks before the start of the new academic year.
The university urged those who do not have a place of residence in Singapore to arrange for off-campus housing and provided the contacts of student hostels Westwood Hostel and EM Real Estate. It also provided links to accommodation booking sites such as Trivago and Agoda in its letter.
TODAY approached NTU for details on the limit placed on residents in halls, the rationale behind the limits and how it is supporting affected students, especially international ones.
In response, NTU said that it has had to review the number of hall places offered for the upcoming academic year as part of safe management measures.
It also said that this year has seen “exceptionally strong demand” for these places.
“However, with vaccinations now well underway and a good vaccination rate expected, as well as other safe management measures that we intend to apply, we are currently reviewing the capacity to allow more students to stay on campus.”
It added that more updates will be provided in the next few days.
Not easy finding affordable housing
TODAY spoke to four international students and four Singaporean students whose housing applications were rejected.
The international students said that they were upset at having to vacate on short notice and were worried about whether they could find alternative accommodation in the next two weeks.
Pei Chenge, a fourth-year undergraduate in NTU’s public policy and global affairs programme, said that she had not expected the university’s last-minute notice.
Pei, a 25-year-old China national, said that she had diligently taken part in campus activities to fulfil the eligibility requirements for housing.
Under NTU’s campus housing policy, new students are guaranteed on-campus housing in a hall for the first two years of study. Senior students will have to take part in co-curricular activities on campus to increase their chances of securing housing in the following year.
Pei, who dedicates at least 11 hours of her week to various co-curricular activities, said that the short notice period, coupled with the large number of foreign students who had their housing application rejected by NTU means that demand for rental rooms around NTU will be “crazy high”.
“It is a worrying but realistic concern that some people will not get a place to stay,” she added.
Others such as Vietnamese student Nora Le said that having to live off-campus will be a financial burden for international students who are unable to afford rooms in the open rental market.
The 20-year-old linguistics and multilingual studies major said that the cheapest room in the open market she had found so far yesterday was S$375 (RM1,156) excluding utilities. This was much higher than her S$265 monthly rent in NTU, which included utilities.
Ms Nora, a third-year undergraduate, said that she has been funding her accommodation through part-time work and was worried that she may not be able to afford rent should she leave her campus hostel. Returning to Vietnam was also not an option because the country has suspended flights due to a worsening Covid-19 situation there.
She also questioned NTU’s rationale for capping the number of students staying on-campus.
“Last year, NTU also reserved some places in the hall for Covid-19 isolation but they did not exclude or kick us out. So why do so now when the (Covid-19) situation is getting better and (some of us) are vaccinated?”
She suggested that international students receive priority to stay on campus instead since they may not be able to find a new residence at such short notice.
Petition for review
Another Vietnamese student, who wanted to be known only as HV, said that the accommodation options offered by NTU in its letter were “really expensive” and unhelpful.
HV, who started a group on messaging platform Telegram called “NTU Homeless” after receiving his rejection later, said that he has reached out to the university to ask for financial assistance. He declined to provide his full name for this interview for fear that his scholarship would be revoked.
As of yesterday evening, there were more than 6,000 members in the Telegram group set up by the 23-year-old fourth-year computer engineering student.
A petition on Change.org calling for NTU to reconsider the applications of students was also started and it had gathered more than 4,000 signatures by midnight.
In an email to students seen by TODAY yesterday evening, the NTU Students’ Union said that it is working with the university to sort out housing arrangements for international students and that the university is looking to provide on-campus accommodation to as many students as possible.
The union stated in its email that international students would not be required to vacate their halls by July 15. NTU did not confirm this or an extension of the deadline in its response to TODAY.
Longer commute, less ideal study environment
Students from NTU who are Singapore residents and who had their housing applications rejected acknowledged that their international peers were in a worse situation but they, too, felt frustrated because they had not been informed about the new quota for on-campus housing.
This was especially so for students whose household environment was not conducive for studies or who have to travel long distances to school.
Bernice Lim Yi Mei, a third-year sociology major, had worked through the last semester to save up for hall accommodation. She had also taken up more academic units this semester because she was confident that she had ticked the boxes to qualify for on-campus housing.
The 22-year-old said that she had planned to stay in a hostel on campus to save on the time she took to travel from her home in Toa Payoh. She had also wanted to stay in an environment where she could study better.
Jerome Lee, a third-year double-degree student studying biomedical science and Traditional Chinese Medicine, said that he was “fed up and annoyed” because it appeared that many students who had tried to secure a place in hostels by taking part in campus activities had not had their applications approved.
The 23-year-old said that it can take him up to three hours to travel from his home in Pasir Ris to NTU. The travel time, coupled with his intensive curriculum and high level of commitment in school activities meant that staying on campus was his preferred housing option.
He was also upset that the university had charged S$16.50 in housing application fees from students without informing them that there would be a quota on those who could stay on campus.
Lee said that introducing shuttle bus services from various parts of the island would be a viable option for students who live far away from campus. However, he noted that this will not be the best solution even for students whose homes are not conducive for study. ― TODAY