Where students live can make a difference to their higher education experience. StarEducation takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of student housing.
STUDENT life can be one of the best times of your life – or one of the worst. And the place where you live can contribute significantly to the kind of memories that will stick with you for many years to come.
For those going to a college or university near home, the obvious choice is to stay put and opt to continue enjoying rent-free housing and mum's cooking. But those who don't have this privilege will have to take their pick of other options.
So what will it be – a house shared with other students, a room, an apartment, a condominium or a residential college?
There are a host of choices but the final choice is often dictated by budget and personal preferences as well as the facilities provided by a particular college or university.
At certain public universities, a popular option is residential colleges.
Imagine living in a place where you can have a fully furnished bedroom as well as enjoy amenities including sports facilities, a library, a cafe, computer rooms, a recreation room, a hall and organised activities all year round for just RM135 per semester. Yes, you have all that, for one whole semester.
Throw in free tutorials during exams and support in the form of college fellows – that is the package you get at Universiti Putra Malaysia's (UPM) Fifth Residential College.
Here is the catch – those looking for a place must be outstanding both academically and non-academically or in great financial need.
“We've had to turn down about 500 students this year,” says college manager Zainalabidin Ali.
Unlike hostel facilities found in some other public universities, a residential college has its own student council that looks into the students' welfare and works with the management to organise events such as inter-college sports competitions, debates and in-house orientations and cultural shows.
Although a residential college functions autonomously, it is intricately part of the broader university landscape.
According to Zainalabidin, it is not easy to maintain a college with limited government funding.
“But the students run their own activities to raise funds, even for outstation trips that the student council organises,” he adds.
The result is a close-knit community.
“You will never feel lonely here,” says student Nur Airena Aireen Azman, 21, with a smile. “Everyone studies together and share their experiences.”
College principal Syed Agil Alsagoff feels that the college environment, which emphasises involvement in activities and engagement with the community, makes a difference.
“It fosters leadership and team-building among students,” he says.
It is largely the same story over at the university's 17th Residential College, which charges RM4 per day. The latest addition to UPM's residential colleges, it is the only one that has apartment-style units with their own bathrooms, lounge area, kitchen and balcony.
The college also has a “student kiosk” where students set up services like a photocopying shop and launderettes.
“The kiosk is where students can do their thing. There is an Entrepreneurship Club here that encourages students to set up their own businesses as a way to help poorer students gain pocket money,” says college principal Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Bakri.
It is common to find many students sharing a house especially where colleges and universities are near residential areas.
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman student Chan Ming Yang, 23, lives with nine other students in a double-storey terrace house with six rooms and three bathrooms in Section 19.
“We’re all quite close and sometimes organise barbeques, steamboat dinners and parties for our friends,” he says, adding that they also have duty rosters and take turns to clean the house.
He is among the luckier ones whose rent is just RM120 a month and he has a responsible landlord who has installed an alarm system, fixes burst pipes in the house and even gives them light bulbs to replace the ones that fused.
Other students like MJ* are not so lucky. His experience of sharing a house is a tale of attempted robbery, overcrowding and unpleasant spats with his landlord, who rents out several other properties.
He lives in a double-storey terrace house in Subang Jaya that has been renovated to accommodate 12 rooms and six bathrooms. It now houses 14 students.
Each room has an air-conditioner and an individual power meter so that the landlord can charge each occupant according to usage.
The occupants each pay RM400 to RM600 monthly as well as two months' deposit which they will forfeit if they move out with less than two months' notice. There are no written contracts.
Last year, MJ stayed in another of the landlord’s houses and had his room nearly broken into twice. He asked the landlord to install proper grills and an alarm system but the landlord refused.
Finally, he moved to the present house, which the landlord assured him was “very safe”.
“Only later did I find out that in the past eight months, three robberies had taken place in the alley next to the house and one of my housemates had been robbed at knifepoint in his car just here,” MJ says, pointing to the side of the house.
It does not mean, however, that most landlords are out to make money out of students.
“I’m only renting out my whole house for RM850,” says Norah Esan*, who rents out her double-storey terrace house in Bangi to seven Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia students.
“We have a contract for two years. They cannot leave before that time without giving notice.”
Echoing the feelings of many property owners, she points out that renting a house to students is risky because they may dirty and damage it.
“The house is also not furnished.
“Think about it, what am I going to do with the mattresses after they have used it?” she adds.
One can understand why some landlords are hesitant to provide their tenants with anything more than the bare essentials. This reporter has come across a house rented by seven university students in Semenyih, all boys – the floor was covered with dead insects and rubbish which had accumulated over the past month!
Unlike public institutions, private ones often do not have their own housing facilities; some rent apartment units nearby for their students.
Student Benaiah, 18, from Nigeria lives a simple life and does not ask for much.
The apartment provided by his private university has three rooms and can sleep six, and includes basic furniture.
He does not have complaints except that he has no Internet access in the apartment as was promised.
However, the security is lax and he sometimes has to walk 4km to classes because the transportation provided is infrequent.
This set-up does not do much for his social life – apart from spending time with his Christian Fellowship friends, he keeps to himself in his room.
“I just go to school and come back to the apartment. It’s like that every day,” he says. “I hate holidays because I don’t know what to do.”
LimKokWing University College of Creative Technology student K. Kumaraguru chose to stay in a private apartment instead of the university-managed ones and is paying RM260 for a room.
“There was no Internet connection, absolutely no furniture and no fan when I moved in, and it is in the middle of nowhere,” he complains.
“I even had to fix my own phone lines and get cooking gas myself.”
Some private institutions have their own on-campus apartments and students with such arrangements seem more contented.
These facilities usually have residence managers and live-in wardens who look into the students’ safety, welfare and even discipline.
“The best part is that it's a stone’s throw away from the college and I can wake up at 7.30am for an 8am class,” says Sunway College student Khoo Hsien May.
Then there is the option of an all-student condominium such as the Sunway Condominium Hostel, which houses Sunway College and Monash University students.
This rather more upmarket alternative comes with a swimming pool, a cafe, sports facilities and cleaning services.
Monash University mass communications student Farhanah Bagharib, 21, pays RM530 a month for a twin-sharing room in a condominium unit for eight with a magnificent view.
“It’s fun here because I’ve got freedom!” says the Singaporean lass.
Residence manager Francis Ng, however, points out that students do not have total freedom – there are house rules which need to be observed.
“No smoking and no alcohol in the grounds and students have a midnight curfew,” he says.
“They cannot bring members of the opposite sex into their rooms; they can be evicted within 24 hours if they break this rule.”
Ng oversees both the condominium as well as the nearby Sunway Apartment Hostel, also meant solely for students of the two institutions.
He explains that 60% of the condominium residents and 40% of the apartment residents are international students, and Middle Eastern families are especially concerned about their children’s safety and morals.
“It is a challenge for us.
“On one hand, the students want freedom and, on the other, their parents want us to control them!” he observes.
The presence of residence managers and wardens like him means that students and parents have someone to refer to for help.
“Sometimes students are fussy and have different personalities.
“We try to accommodate them,” Ng says.
“We even have parents asking us to place their child with students of other races to learn tolerance.”
Names have been changed to protect sources.
Did you find this article insightful?