As we all might know, finding accommodation can be difficult or, frankly, even impossible in many countries and cities and especially in capital regions. Shortage of housing and lack of interest towards short-term tenants are just some of the core issues faced in international student housing. This is where HousErasmus+, a new ESN project supported by the European Commission, comes in with an aim to improve housing situation of exchange-students.
The first HousErasmus+ conference was now held in Malmö (Sweden), which was the first regional conference for Nordic and Baltic countries. It took place from the 22nd to 23rd of November with four ESN Finland representatives: Toni and Pablo from the National Board, Gwen from ESN KISA and Petra from ESN Vaasa.
This conference had a clear objective of bringing together stakeholders from the field of ESN, student unions, universities, housing providers and policy makers. Days were well filled with presentations, small sessions and panel discussions. It was a great way to network with the stakeholders and learn about their perspectives on the issue. Additionally, it was great to hear how other countries are handling the housing situation, what kind of problems they are facing and how they are being tackled. We could easily see how the higher education institutes represented in the conference also seemed to be motivated by the few solutions other countries had.
The most interesting parts we learnt about the application processes in other cities were, that universities take surprisingly big responsibility in some institutions to guarantee the housing. In these cases the university might be renting from private landlords and paying rent for an entire year, despite the fact if the flats are being occupied or not. The university would then provide these apartments for the exchange-students in order to guarantee them some accommodation.
Some thoughts on the possible recommendations for fixing the situation in Finland
Based on many of the presentations, international students prefer shared apartments or even shared dormitory rooms. Would it not make sense to respond to the need by providing housing with such an option? If that is what students want, why not give it to them? The nonprofits in Finland handling student accommodation can easily adapt to this demand, making it a great thing for the students and the university’s ability to guarantee receiving students.
Another interesting solution was the use of shipping containers as a way of building modular housing close to the campus areas. One university in Norway is already doing it with unexpectedly great results. These containers can be easily turned into a single-room apartment by building an insulation, interior and then furnishing it all with IKEA equipment. It turns out that these small little containers are even more popular amongst Norwegian students than regular apartment building housing.
Many ideas in the end were gathered into country posters with concrete suggestions for stakeholders how to improve student accommodation.
How is the project going to continue?
ESN AISBL will organise three more regional conferences in the following year, next one being in Madrid. Since these are regional, unfortunately that means we do not get a chance to send people from Finland there. This is the way to go though, since the nature of student housing issues can be very regionally dependent, giving the most benefit to the regional countries.
By the end of these conferences, the International Board should be able present a report for those interested to read. There will also be likely an update of the project’s current prospects at AGM Germany (Annual General Meeting of ESN held in Berlin during 20.-23.4).