International graduate students offered a choice of two off-campus residences provided by NUS are choosing to find accommodation on their own instead.
The result is the lower than expected occupancy rates at off-campus residences, yo:HA@Boon Lay and yo:HA@Commonwealth.
Located outside the vicinity of NUS Kent Ridge campus, the off-campus residences can accommodate up to 396 and 450 occupants respectively.
Both are currently about 60 percent occupied.
These details were revealed at a dialogue session on March 6 between the Graduate Students’ Society and Tan Teck Koon, associate professor and dean of students.
Tan said, “We were quite surprised that the demand wasn’t quite there.”
New international graduate students coming to Singapore for the first time choose not to apply to stay at off-campus residences because they are aware that the number of units are limited.
They would rather confirm their place of residence early by applying for accommodation on the open rental market than risk not finding any, if their application to stay at the residences is unsuccessful.
Sivanand Somasundaram, an engineering graduate student said, “I think the problem is that for international students coming here, they don’t know if they are getting (a unit at) Boon Lay or not. And they panic and they look outside.”
Graduate students are also reluctant to pay in advance for a room they have not seen, and rely on friends who are already here in Singapore to recommend a place to them, Sivanand said.
NUS tries to make the off-campus residences attractive options by lowering rental rates below market rates.
According to Tan, graduate students pay about $600 each to share a room at yo:HA@Boon Lay, an affordable rate compared to renting a place on their own.
Tan said, “Two students, each one pays $600 to share a room. We thought that with graduate students that is reasonable because most of you are on research scholarship. We did a market check and it was $700 or $800 a student.”
But cost is only one concern when graduate students need to find a place urgently.
Deepak Pitta, an electrical and electronic engineering graduate student said he chose to find a place on his own out of convenience, even if it was more expensive to do so.
Renting a single room in Bukit Batok for $715 a month, Deepak said, “Actually for my case, I graduated from NTU and I was looking for accommodation… and that time was the peak time (in July 2008), and that was the cheapest I got.
“After a while I just didn’t feel like moving out.”
The graduate students The Observer spoke to also said they will take up the offer of subsidised accommodation supplied by NUS, provided it is located on campus grounds.
Huang He, a communications and new media graduate student said, “Staying in hostel is better. It is much easier.”
However, Tan said priority will be given to undergraduates to stay in hostels within the Kent Ridge campus vicinity as graduate students have already been through the university experience.
Tan said, “Our priority is undergraduates because they are younger and this is their first experience with university life.”
The university tries to help international graduate students by allocating the off-campus residences to them.
Tan said, “By taking up Commonwealth (off-campus residences) as a community, you will be living with fellow students.
“And I thought that will be more attractive than renting a private place where there could be a limitation to how many fellows you can have with you, and you will be living in isolation from fellow students.”
With the recent economic downturn, it is also expected that graduate students find affordable accommodation on their own if they do not want to rely on subsidised off-campus housing provided by NUS.
Tan said, “If (the housing) market is softening, then I think it is reasonable that graduate students should find a way out because we really don’t have enough until 2011.”
The University Town, scheduled for completion by 2011, will comprise of two graduate residences and can accomodate up to an additional 6,000 students in the entire vicinity.
Previously, graduate students had the option of staying at Gillman Heights, a five-minute drive from the Kent Ridge campus.
Gillman Heights will cease all operations by July 15 after it was leased out in an en bloc sale in early 2007.
Legal completion of the sale is expected to take place between the middle to end of May this year.