Refugee Crisis Expected Is to Exacerbate Student-Housing Shortages in Germany

September 30, 2015

Germany’s Student Welfare Service, or DSW, has warned that the refugee crisis could worsen prospects for students on the housing market. With enrolment numbers set to peak once again, the DSW insists that the government provide funding for additional student accommodation.

This is an article from University World News, an online publication that covers global higher education. It is presented here under an agreement with The Chronicle.

Student numbers in Germany reached a record 2.7 million last winter semester, and universities are reckoning with even more enrolments this year. The DSW is the umbrella organisation of 58 student welfare services throughout Germany. Providing accommodation for students is one of their core activities, and they support 80% of the more than 230,000 public-funded flats, most of which are in student hostels.

The DSW has criticised the fact that, while first-year student numbers have grown by 50%, or 760,000, since 2008, the number of public-funded student flats has risen by a mere 5% in the same period. Fifty-five per cent of school-leavers currently qualify for higher education, and first-year enrolment levels are forecast to remain at a high level at least until 2025. The DSW has called on the government to fund an additional 25,000 flats for students.

DSW spokesman Georg Schlanzke believes that asylum-seekers could compete with members of other low-income groups looking for accommodation, among them students from abroad and those with a low-income family background. 

Competition could above all build up in major cities, Schlanzke warns. Germany has taken in 800,000 refugees this year, and a similar number is expected for next year.

In Cologne, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, or NRW, around 80,000 students are currently seeking accommodation. Only 5,000 hostel flats are available, and rent levels on the private housing market are high. Emergency dormitories have been set up in university buildings. Other cities in NRW are facing similar problems.

Helga Fels of the NRW Student Welfare Service says that the NRW state government subsidies have so far fallen far short of actual requirements. “What we need is government-supported hostel programmes,” Fels maintains. “That’s the only way to create affordable accommodation, which is especially important for foreign students.”

However, there will be no additional funding, according to NRW Higher Education Minister Svenja Schulze. “Given the challenges NRW is facing, we cannot afford more at the moment, and I’m glad that we can even manage that,” Schulze says.

Meanwhile, in an emergency 'refugee summit', the federal government has pledged to provide €670 (US$746) a month for each refugee. A further €350 million will be available for unaccompanied minors. And a housing programme is to be subsidised with €350 million. The federal government also intends to declare Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro countries of safe origin, which should take pressure off the accommodation of people waiting for asylum status. The moves have been welcomed by the state governments.