UPDATED: Around 40 percent of the buildings at Norway’s universities in Tromsø, Bergen, Ås, Trondheim and Oslo are in bad shape, after years of neglected maintenance. Now their asset value has fallen, while university officials scramble to find funds for repairs, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
A portion of the ceiling in the chemistry building at the University of Oslo literally fell down just before classes started earlier this month, and the floor where it landed now has a deep crack. No one was hurt, but the incident illustrates how poor maintenance over the years has resulted in a critical situation that demands urgent attention, according to both students and university officials.
Maintenance is the responsibility of each individual university, but most complain they don’t have enough state funding for it. “We set aside NOK 170 million each year (USD 28 million) for ongoing maintenance and that alone is painful,” Ole Petter Ottersen, dean of the University of Oslo (UiO), told DN. “We can’t set aside any more, then it will hurt other study programs and research.”
He stressed that UiO is completing major renovations of its oldest and most historic buildings on the downtown campus, but maintenance costs for the entire university’s physical plant pose an enormous challenge. Newspaper Aftenposten later reported problems with the paint used on the historic buildings, noting that it has already showed signs of discoloration and more work may be needed.
The government claims the universities have been granted hundreds of millions of kroner for maintenance over the years, but acknowledges the desperate situation many are in. “Even though the universities are responsible for maintenance themselves, they can apply for extra funding beyond the state budget for major rehabilitation projects,” the communications staff for Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen wrote to DN. Halvorsen claimed that 14 such projects have received initial funding, to the tune of NOK 16 billion.
Ordinary maintenance is often neglected, though, until buildings fall into such bad shape that the need for repairs becomes urgent. The inadequate maintenance leads to a poor environment for studying, claim representatives of the students’ organization, and they argue that it’s more economical to carry out routine maintenance than wait until there’s a crisis.
“We want to see an investment plan that shows what will be renovated and when over the next five years,” Ola Magnussen Rydje, leader of the Norsk Studentorganisasjon (NSO). He warned that otherwise, needs and costs will continue to escalate. “It will only get more and more expensive with every day that goes by,” Rydje said.