Not at home on the campus

G. MAHADEVAN G. Krishnakumar J.S. Bablu Mohamed Nazeer

AT WHOSE MERCY? Students at the Maharaja's College hostel in Ernakulam. - Photo: H. Vibhu

AT WHOSE MERCY? Students at the Maharaja's College hostel in Ernakulam. - Photo: H. Vibhu  

A LARGE number of the students living in hostels in Kerala are facing hard times. They are being made to pay for the almost universal problem of shortage of funds by having to make do with unsatisfactory living conditions, which range from the abysmal to the barely tolerable.

The hostels in many places, especially those run by Government institutions and universities, are light years away from offering an ideal environment for studies. Faced with a shortage of even essentials of everyday living such as water, things like Internet access, which is taken for granted in very many of the better hostels today, can only be seen as a princely luxury by many students. One which they can only dream of now.

Take the situation in Thiruvananthapuram for instance. In 1963 the University Grants Commission sanctioned Rs.1 lakh for the construction of a ladies hostel for the University of Kerala. Today the University runs four ladies hostels. Professional colleges under the university have hostels and there are many private organisations that run hostels for both boys and girls.

There are hostels that are run directly by the State Government. From the outside, thus, the situation appears very rosy.

Even today, the primary problem plaguing students who sign up in institutions of higher learning is a shortage of accommodation.

The simple truth is that the increase in the number of hostels is rendered negligible when compared to the exponential growth in the number of student who travel out of their hometowns seeking higher education.

The indifference shown by the authorities in providing decent living space for scholars can be seen from the fact that though the first ladies hostel on the Kariavattom campus of the University of Kerala was set up in 1968, the second one was set up only in 1978 and third, in 2003. The case of the men's hostel is even more pathetic. The first one was set up in 1968, the second and the last one in 1977.

Even in a prestigious Government institution such as the Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, the plight of those in the hostels is worsening by the day. In the PG hostel for women, for instance, 84 students are packed into 25 rooms; that too in a portion of the undergraduate women's hostel that has been cordoned off for PG students. Though repeated demands have been made for a new PG hostel, a final decision is reportedly yet to be made on this front.

The worries of students are not just all about having to squeeze into hostel rooms. A major worry in almost all the hostels is lack of hygienic environs. Whether it is the university's women's hostel at Thycaud which revealed major plumbing problems (during a NAAC inspection tour by university officials a couple of years ago) and still cries out for a major multi-lakh overhaul, or whether it is the men's hostel at the Medical College, where the number of bathrooms is inversely proportional to the number of students, or whether it is the ages-old building in which the Government hostel near the LMS junction is housed, the problems arising from lack of funds for regular maintenance and from the lack of facility upgrading are all too visible in these hostels.

In many of the hostels, the recurring charges for electricity and water are a major headache for students. Those living in the hostels at the Kariavattom campus are `relatively lucky' as, according to university officials, their water charges come clubbed with the much bigger bill incurred by the campus as a whole. In many other hostels, water and electricity comes at commercial charges. But they have to get the water in the first place, which is a rare occurrence, said a former student of the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, referring to the situation at the institution's men's hostels.

These problems and those relating to the management of the canteens in the hostels are also standing in the way of the introduction of other facilities there.

For instance, though the Kariavattom campus has Net connectivity, even the Research Hostel on the campus is yet to be linked up to the World Wide Web. In fact the situation in many hostels is such that they do not even have the space to house a decent library or host recreational facilities.

Then there are many students who point out that the people chosen as matrons and wardens of hostels are not exactly qualified (not in the academic sense) to work in such capacity.

In Kochi too the situation is no different. Hostel residents face a lot of problems ranging from poorly maintained buildings to unhealthy surroundings near their hostels. Lack of funds for hostel development is a major problem here also. "The funds allocated for hostel development is not enough," says a student of the Cochin University of Science and Technology.

Students also want the authorities to take steps to maintain a healthy atmosphere in each hostel. "This would help in checking the outbreak of diseases on the campus", says George, a final year student.

For the inmates of the men's hostel at Ernakulam Maharajas College, for instance, life has become very difficult these days. They went on the warpath recently demanding immediate steps for renovating the hostel that is in a dilapidated condition.

Students point out that the hostel building is in a pathetic condition. Toilets are choked with dirt. Sewage lines and drainage system are also in a poor state.

The college authorities have started renovation of the hostel.

The Public Works Department (PWD) has drawn up a plan to repair the hostel. In the initial stage, basic infrastructure will be set up at the hostel. The electrical wing of PWD will repair the damaged lines inside the hostel.

Work on the renovation of the hostel began after students staged several protests on the campus seeking the intervention of the College Development Council in giving a facelift to the building.

"We might need at least Rs.50 lakhs for renovating the hostel," says Augustine A. Thomas, Principal, Maharaja's College. The College Development Council is facing a severe crunch of funds. The Plan funds of the Government would not be sufficient for carrying out renovation of the hostel, he adds.

But things are even worse at the Government Post-matric hostel in Kochi. Students had launched an agitation demanding better facilities. "The Government has not revised the mess allowance and pocket money for students during the last five years," says R. Rajeshkumar, convener of the samithi formed to highlight the plight of the students.

The silver lining in the cloud is that some institutions in the State such as the National Institute of Technology, Calicut (NIT-C) provide good hostel facilities to students.

The NIT-C has two PG hostels, seven undergraduate hostels and two ladies hostel, apart from an international hostel.

Dinesh Vasudevan, an MCA student says that the hostel facilities are excellent. "Every hostel has got a mess. The hostels are cleaned on alternative dayd and clean water is available for drinking. There is wi-fi facility in some of the hostels. Combined study is possible among the students of the hostel. Also we can use the lab and library which are open late into the night," says Dinesh.

But at the Kozhikode Medical College hostel, students are agitated over the poor facilities there. M. Sajish, final year medical student and former Calicut University Union chairman, says that the Government has not been giving enough funds for hostel development even though it is a professional institution. The list of woes is endless with lack of water, proper toilet, space and cots being some of them.

"This has also affected their studies. For instance, a first year MBBS student has to report for class at 7.45 a.m. but he or she will not have water supply at that time for bathing."

In Kannur, a random survey brings home the fact that the hostels of private colleges are better run than those of Government colleges. Lack of proper maintenance of old hostel buildings and shortage of proper facilities such as new furniture and kitchen appliances coupled with paucity of running funds do affect the working of the Government college hostels.

"We need a rolling fund to run the hostel,'' says P.R. Gopalakrishnan, English Literature teacher, who is also warden of the women's and men's hostels of the Government Brennen College, Thalassery.

Minimal tariff for water and electricity for college hostels and some kind of subsidy on food expenditure are the proposals put forth by K.P. Mohanan, principal of the Sree Narayana College, Kannur, and warden of the women's hostel of the college. Non-domestic tariff for water and electricity fixed for students hostels defies logic since hostels are not profit-making establishments, he says.

Though the University Grants Commission sanctions matching grant to colleges for the construction of hostels, they struggle for funds for their periodic maintenance. Despite various shortcomings in the hostels of many colleges, there is no general sense of discontent among the hostel inmates in the region.

However, there is widespread agreement among students, teachers and administrators who spoke to The Hindu-Educationplus that the Government needs to come out with a `hostels policy' sorts laying down clear-cut guidelines for the setting up and running of student hostels both in the public and private sector.

It is also time that the Government radically hiked it financial commitment to student hostels, they say.

"There is a pressing need for all universities and for the Government to undertake a survey on the number of students of degree courses and above who are in need for hostel accommodation.

Then, more hostels should be set up and funds set apart for their regular maintenance," says Dr. K. Sasikumar, former member of the Syndicate of the University of Kerala.