Students face housing squeeze

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Norwegian media carry stories every August about how difficult it is for college students to find housing, especially in Oslo. This year, real estate experts and student housing authorities agree that the housing shortage is acute, with a lot of poor accommodation offered at record high prices.

It's not very often that newspaper VG offers headlines in English, but it seemed appropriate for VG's story about the low standard of housing offered to foreign students. Some Norwegian students might counter that at least the international students are offered housing, while locals get stuck on long waiting lists. PHOTO: VG facsimile/Views and News

One factor is a record high number of students accepted this year at, for example, the University of Oslo (UiO). Never before had so many applied to Norwegian universities and colleges and UiO officials have admitted that they’ve accepted far more students than bulging university buildings can handle. They intentionally “overbook,” reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), because many students drop out during the course of their first semester.

The good news, reported newspaper Dagsavisen, is that the record number of students seeking higher education are choosing fields of study that will lead to careers in areas where Norway needs them. Many students want to be engineers, health care workers and teachers, and that’s where the jobs are and will be in years ahead.

Housing all the students, though, remains a major challenge. “More students means that more will be on waiting lists for student housing,” Øyvind Berdal of the Norwegian students’ association NSO told Dagsavisen. “We have too little supply, and need to build more housing units.”

Around 14,000 qualified students have not received any offer of housing this year, and foreign students get top priority. Newspaper Aftenposten reported earlier this year that two of every three student housing units in Norway are assigned to foreign students, and the number of foreign students in Norway has increased rapidly. Universities are keen to attract more foreign students to “internationalize” the studentbody, and foreign students are attracted not only by programs but by the lack of tuition fees in Norway.

Around 2,500 foreign students had first grabs on 3,500 available housing units in Oslo, but many moving into the Sogn student housing complex in Oslo have faced shabby and dirty shared kitchens and bathrooms, and overall conditions that can only be described as substandard. For that, some summer school students have paid around NOK 7,000 per month (USD 1,100).

The remainder of any available housing goes to first-year students and the rest are left to fend for themselves. Statistics show that those accepting student housing units generally remain around 18 months before moving on to private apartments or other accommodation.

“Our experience is that most find a place to live regardless,” said an official in the state education ministry, but it’s more expensive than ever. Most students prefer to live downtown, where prices are highest. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that some apartments as small as 25 square meters are renting for as much as NOK 9,500 a month in central areas of Oslo such as Bislet. In Stavanger, average rental rates for a two-room apartment are NOK 13,050.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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