Students turn 'squatters' amid varsity bed crunch

SINGAPORE - Every night, undergraduate Tuen Weng Kuen throws a mattress on his friends' hostel room floor and shoves his clothes in a duffel bag under his roommate's bed.

Mr Tuen is what Nanyang Technological University (NTU) calls a "legal squatter". He is a sign of the times as universities face a bed crunch because of rapidly rising student numbers.

The 22-year-old has permission from NTU and his buddies to sleep on the floor of their room while paying the university $40 a month. Double-room rates there start at $210 per person.

However, legal squatters are not provided with a bed, study table or wardrobe. They have the option of renting a mattress from the hall office or using their own.

Mr Tuen is one of 400 students on NTU's temporary sharing hostel scheme which has been in place for more than five years.

More students are getting to know about it due to the increasing demand for hostel places. More than 98 per cent of NTU's 9,200 hostel places are filled.

To keep pace with demand, NTU and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have been ramping up accommodation options.

An NTU spokesman told The Straits Times that students will be able to move into two new hostels at Nanyang Drive from July next year. Three more at NTU's North Hill vicinity will be ready by 2015, and three others near Nanyang Crescent will be finished in 2016.

He said these will add 5,000 more places, so that about 65 per cent of NTU's undergraduates will be able to stay on campus if they wish.

The recent completion of NUS' University Town has added 4,000 hostel beds over the last two years, bringing the total number of places at the university to 11,000. All of these are taken.

The demand has led to some students in Singapore renting out their rooms for profit or allowing their friends to bunk with them without permission. By doing so, they run the risk of being banned from the hostel by their university.

Many students become legal squatters because they live too far away from campus to make daily commuting a viable option.

Mr Tuen, for example, lives in Pasir Ris. "To rent an apartment near school would have been much more expensive," said the second-year materials science student. "Staying on campus is more convenient."

NTU biological science student Trinda Ting, 21, who lives in Tanah Merah, said: "Staying in hall was mainly about the distance. I have 8.30am classes and I didn't want to have to wake up at 6am just to reach school on time."

Other undergraduates want to stay on campus because it allows them to stay plugged into hall life.

"I had hall commitments even before I got a room - I already had a place in the cheer team," said Mr Teo Chun Yang, 23, who used to have his own room in a hall at NTU for the past two years. However, he was unable to secure a place when the school term started in August, and is now temporarily sharing a room with friends.

Another temporary resident at NTU, Mr Darrell Tan, 27, prefers to study outside the room at "peak periods" so that he will not disturb his roommates.

"It can be quite uncomfortable, so while this is an option for now, I hope to eventually get a room of my own," he said.

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