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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 5. 1965.

Accommodation Situation Depressing — Little Improvement in Future

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Accommodation Situation Depressing
Little Improvement in Future

A Comparison of action and results on student accommodation in Wellington is quite depressing. Little improvement is in prospect in the foreseeable future, despite hundreds of hours of work by interested people.

Each Year some four or five hundred first year students come into Wellington to study, and for these young people about 100 hostel places (of varying quality) are normally available. Each year 150 students more than the year before are seeking accommodation in Wellington.

This great pressure on available accommodation is having a number of very bad effects. It is driving down the overall standard of student accommodation. It is forcing up rents. It is excluding students from university (some parents refuse to let their children go to university unless they get hostel accommodation). It is affecting student pass rates. (Consider the pass rates of hostel students. One hostel has a pass rate in all units of 95 per cent for last year, and rates for other hostels are only a little lower.)

Most depressing, it is creating a state of mind which will accept any form of accommodation as an improvement, and a position where a student's need for accommodation can be used to control his actions.

It is with these last two points that this article will deal. It is the intention of this article to show that the present planning of student accommodation is proceeding in a totally wrong and quite undesirable direction. It is this writer's contention that student accommodation need not be, and should not be, a form of charity.

Only one scheme exists for accommodation for students—the Government subsidy scheme. This scheme grants £2 for £1 subsidies on hostel schemes up to a total of £1200 per bed. The subsidy is available only on actual cash contributions and only for hostels. No grant towards running expenses is available.

The responsibility of providing hostels has devolved entirely on church organisations and university authorities. The university authorities have no funds of their own and must make public appeals for funds, with varying results. Only in Otago and at Waikato has such an appeal been really successful.

It has never been really clear why the Government should leave the provision of hostels to church organisations. For a Government which has shunned State aid to private schools, to grant such heavy subsidies for private hostels is surely inconsistent. However, it may be reasonably asserted that the subsidy system will continue to exist because of the power of political patronage which it creates. It is indirect State assistance to church organisations, and one which results in the transfer of substantial capital assets to them.

The right, the moral obligation, of churches to provide such accommodation is not questioned. But the point which must be made is that the Government is, by default, handing to the churches control of student accommodation.

This control can be, and is being, used to control the actions of students. This assertion can be documented by a consideration of hostels in the Wellington area. A student, to gain admittance to a church hostel, must generally have a reference from his church minister. It is useful to belong to the denomination which controls the hostel. Once present, the student may be subject to concealed or overt pressure to conform. Religious lectures, attendance at church, rest on Sunday, evening curfews, arbitrary control on liquor and contact with the opposite sex—these restriction are imposed on students who accept hostel accommodation.

A church body is not a university organisation. Church hostels in Wellington do not cater solely for university students, but include office and factory workers and training college students.

It is, incidentally, interesting to note that the Government is to build a 200-bed hostel for training college students in Karori. For the favoured few, no subsidies, no private organisations—just accommodation.

It has not been satisfactorily explained why hostels are supposed to be the answer to accommodation problems. It must be noted that there is a great deal of difference between a "hostel" and a "hall of residence." In the words of the current warden of Weir House, the test of a student hall is whether it is "a viable intellectual community."

This viability comes, he claims, at a level of about 200 students. The smallest hostel in Wellington has 16 students, and the largest (excluding Weir) only about 60.

Overseas, interest has lately centred on a modification of "halls of residence." Consider these instances:

United States—most universities are providing co-educational accommodation, generally by putting men and women on different floors of the same building. Halls are broken into units, usually by floors, which are in turn broken down into units accommodating six to 20 students. Each floor usually has a kitchen unit, bathroom facilities, telephones, and a small living room. Counsellors or tutors share the same accommodation as students.

Denmark—halls are fully integrated on each floor. Rooms share bathroom facilities and groups of students share kitchen facilities. In summer the accommodation is used as tourist accommodation, greatly cutting the board cost to students.

Germany—In Friedburg an 11-floor building has been opened. Each floor is nearly a self-contained unit, with single and double rooms placed around a central core which contains stairs, lifts, lavatories, showers, kitchens and living rooms.

Under this system students pay a basic room board, and have very flexible meal arrangements—instead of being tied to meal hours they can eat in a cafeteria or cook for themselves. Hostels are not scattered about a city, but centre on one area and thus provide a resident student population which makes the provision of special commercial and meal facilities possible.

The adoption of this enlightened system in Wellington could only take place through a complete revision of Government policy. Admittedly there is a particular area near Weir House under proclamation for hostels, and some aspects of the basic idea may be incorporated in current hostel projects.

But without a complete recasting of the New Zealand idea of student accommodation, without a complete rejection of the school boardinghouse concept, and the puritanical mother-complex which fosters it, future students will be condemned to accommodation which is not the kind they want.

The time has come for students to make their views known. When we are starting from scratch, let us do the job properly. Let us tell the Government whose job student accommodation is, and let us make it completely clear that we want no charity and no pork-barrel politics. We want modern-style halls of residence, we want them university-controlled, and we want them now.—Special Correspondent.