Student halls: A solution when colleges are far awayfrom home and renting an apartment is expensive

One of the worries that follows the joy of getting accepted by a university, in particular for parents whose children have been admitted to a college far from home, is that of finding suitable lodgings. With soaring rents, in particular for bed-sits and apartments near colleges, halls of residence are an alternative solution. However, the 15 halls that operate in the 11 university establishments in Greece can only accommodate 8 percent of the students registered at university and technical colleges this year. Selection criteria for students applying for student halls are primarily social. Priority is given to low-income families, orphaned children, large families and special-needs cases. Out of the 8,076 students that find lodgings in halls, only some get lucky; many others will encounter problems as a result of poorly maintained old buildings and lack of security on the grounds. For the many halls that are housing models, boasting modern facilities and spacious rooms in green surroundings, there are just as many that are run down and beset with operational problems. The NTUA jewel At the top is the new National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) student hall, built to meet Olympic Games requirements with a capacity for 800 beds. At the start of the new academic year the facilities had been virtually unused: they were delivered last November when the students had already found accommodation. Anyone who manages to get a room in these halls of residence is among the lucky ones, for these facilities are indeed impressive. Civil engineering student Vasso Zacharaki from Vonitsa in Aitoloacarnania, in her fifth year at the university, had until now been living in the Athens University student hall. This year she moved to the new NTUA residence and said she «went from squalor to a fantastic room.» Living on campus does relieve the student’s family of a big financial burden as the lodger does not have to pay rent, electricity and water, «expenses that would normally be to the tune of 600 euros a month,» Zacharaki pointed out. «I have been in this room for two-and-a-half-months and I am very pleased. The most important thing is that I have my own toilet in my room after four years of having to share one to three toilets with 20 other people.» Zacharaki’s previous room did not even have shutters and the state of the common use areas was indescribable, she explained to us. «There was no heating and we all had to use individual electric heaters. The fuses would blow and we would be left without electricity for long periods of time, wrapped up in blankets.» The image of the Athens University student hall in Ilissia makes for a depressing sight. The common use areas are dirty, badly maintained and full of garbage. The security issue is at the top of the long list of complaints; 40- to 50-year-olds who are probably not students have been seen lodging in the residence. «Yesterday from my window I saw a youth taking drugs, and although the sight scared me it did not surprise me because we are used to seeing such things,» classics student Irini Moira from Sparti confided to Kathimerini. Anyone can enter the residence grounds and do whatever they want, even take drugs. «Last year, a stranger who entered the building decided to take his life and threw himself from the balcony,» she told us, visibly upset. One of the students’ demands is for the implementation of security control on the grounds. But some university students are against private security companies being placed in the area as it would be an infringement of university asylum. Antonis Antonakis, managing director of the National Youth Foundation, under whose jurisdiction the halls fall (with the exception of a few residences that are managed by the rector body), explained that «in such a case we would also have to have a say about the duties of the private security guards, something which student organizations are opposed to.» As for the state of the rooms, the responsibility lies with the lodgers themselves. «It’s your duty to take care of your own room but the common use areas are the main problem,» Moira said. «The cleaners come, but there are only three of them for the whole building.» Antonakos acknowledges the problematic state of the Athens University student hall. However, as he said, «funds have been approved for its refurbishment.» He considered the state of the other residences to be satisfactory. A permanent malfunction of the student halls is the payment of the token rent of 4.41 euros a month. Most of the students do not pay it and there is no one to check whether they do. One of the students who had been living in the student hall for three years did not even know she had to pay this amount, and when she handed back her keys on her departure nobody asked her for the money. The problem is due to the absence of an organization to exercise control and the administrative hurdles are enormous. For every student hall there is an ephorate that can bring up issues and also make decisions in some cases. This body comprises two university professors, two lodgers of the student residence, a representative of the workers, a local government representative and the director of services at the student residence. Not surprisingly, taking decisions is not an easy task.