No Room to Spare

The glaring discrepancy between the number of students coming from the provinces and the capacity of in-campus dorms already presents a long-standing problem of insufficient student housing in the University of the Philippines. A host of other factors aggravate its already pitiable state today.

BY GLENN DIAZ
Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 23, July 15-21, 2007

Year after year, thousands upon thousands of students try their luck in securing scarce slots in campus dormitories. Residents not only enjoy relatively cheaper rates, they likewise take advantage of the convenience of living inside campus premises.

According to last year’s enrolment figures, 41 percent of University of the Philippines – Diliman (UPD) students comes from the provinces. However, the capacity of the the 11 in-campus dorms, including the newly opened Kamagong Residence Hall, is 3,257 – accommodating only 15 percent. Where the unsuccessful applicants end up living, the figures are silent.

As regular classes resumed in June, the future of many student dormers stood in the balance as the new dormitory admission procedure was implemented for the first time. Shortly after, a joint inspection by several committees headed by the Office of the Campus Architect (OCA) revealed that Narra Residence Hall’s overall structure has deteriorated, prompting the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affars to endorse its closure. As a result, most Narra residents were transferred to other dormitories, including Ipil, supposedly meant for graduate students while most were prompted to look for a place to stay elsewhere.

The glaring discrepancy between the number of students coming from the provinces and the capacity of in-campus dorms already presents a long-standing problem of insufficient student housing in the University. A host of other factors aggravate its already pitiable state today.

Faulty implementation

Still another cause for concern for dormers is the “rushed” implementation of the new admission procedure. Previously, dorm managers had the over – riding power to approve dorm applications. The new procedure centralizes all applications to the Dorm Admission Committee (DAC) which will evaluate them based on the new point system. While it still uses the same criteria such as place of origin and income bracket, the new scheme allots corresponding score points according to each region and bracket. The old system does not employ a clear-cut point system to determine admission.

The policy seeks to provide a more “objective” system by removing discretionary powers from dorm managers which, Enriquez said, can be prone to abuse. The policy was proposed a year ago by the Dorm Oversight Committee and approved by UPD Chancellor Sergio Cao last April 12.

To start with, the original deadline of application was set on May 31. This practically barred students who went back to their home provinces during summer vacation from applying. Admitting that it had insufficiently disseminated information, however, the DAC extended the deadline thrice to accommodate the influx of late requests, which resulted in the slow processing of applications.

The DAC said it did not foresee such volume of applications, claiming that it initially allotted just five days to finish everything. In an article, University Student Council (USC) dormitories committee head Patrick Joseph Daep said the students “were made instant victims to a procedure adopted without being given the benefit of prior notice.”

UP Student Regent Terry Ridon and USC Chair Shahana Abdulwahid both claimed that the implementation of the policy lacked democratic consultation with students. In a statement, Ipil residents argued that dormers should be an integral part in crafting a dormitory policy since they have first hand information on dormitory life.

The UP administration, however, maintained that it is a purely “management issue,” therefore not requiring consultation.

Moreover, according to the Revised Residence Hall Rules and Regulations of the UPD student handbook published by the OVCSA, accommodation in residence halls, because they are subsidized, is “clearly a privilege and not a right.”

USC Student Rights and Welfare head Vanessa Faye Bolibol, however, begged to disagree. “Ang dorm ay extension ng pag-aaral ng estudyante,” she said. “Isa itong venue para ma-practice ng estudyante ang community living.” (The dormitory is an extension of the education of the student. This is one venue where the student will be able to practice community living.) A separate provision under the same section of the handbook, however, echoes the same sentiment.

“Residence halls are more than mere provisions for board and lodging …they must also provide experience in liberal education through social interaction and group living,” it said.

It is easy to understand the clamor of qualified residents to stay in in-campus dormitories.

While the monthly rate for Kalayaan, for instance, is pegged at P500 ($10.92 at an exchange rate of $1=P45.75), boarding houses outside the University charge an average of P1, 500 ($32.78).

Poor maintenance

Most residents blamed poor maintenance for Narra’s current state. The inspection found that Narra’s plumbing, electrical, and roofing systems have been grossly neglected. Among in-campus dorms, Narra charges the least with P175 ($3.82) a month.

In January last year, the Board of Regents (BOR) approved a P20 million ($437,158) grant to rehabilitate the dorms on campus. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Elizabeth Enriquez said the administration chose to allocate the fund for Molave, Yakal, and Sampaguita since these only needed minor renovations. Narra was the least prioritized among the dorms.

Eventually, wings 1 and 2 of Narra were identified by the OCA as “relatively safe” prompting the OVCSA to defer Narra’s closure.

The case highlights the plight of some in-campus dormitories. While student housing in the University remains insufficient, the UP administration even seems unable to look after existing dorms. In addition, UP’s 2007 budget did not allot anything for capital outlay expenses, which include new infrastructure projects. If the UP administration is to rely on government subsidy alone, the construction of additional dormitories is out of the question.

Commercial tie-ups

Private corporations, for their part, are quick to spot this shortage in student housing units and take advantage of it. In 2004, the BOR approved the construction of a “high-end” luxury dorm in the vacant lot beside Kalayaan dormitory. Dubbed the Mega Dorm, the project is based on a 25-year build-operate- transfer contract between UP and New City Builders (NCB), a private developer. The deal, moreover, gave NCB the prerogative to fix the rate based on inflation and construction costs. There are unconfirmed reports that the NCB had recently withdrawn from the agreement over financial viability concerns.

Admission in such high-end dorms will depend on whether a student can afford the high rates. In contrast, existing dorms determine admission via place of origin and income bracket.

And since tie-ups are driven by profit, lodging rates would predictably be unaffordable.

The mere fact that the UP administration is resorting to such corporate tie-ups means it recognizes the glaring shortage of affordable student housing in the University. However, it chooses a different path in addressing such a need. The recent string of dorm-related concerns, meanwhile, such as the poor maintenance of Narra and the flawed implementation of the new dorm admission procedures, even exacerbate the problem.

Needless to say, though, there would be no need to reject qualified dorm applicants had there been enough housing units for students in the first place.

Consequently, there would be no lack in student housing units had there been enough subsidy from the government. This gaping lack in affordable student housing creates undue restrictions that render living in in-campus dormitories an elusive “privilege.” Philippine Collegian / Posted by(Bulatlat.com)

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