UM students pan ministry's housing initiative

Elill Easwaran

UM student union president Guo Shen (in white pants) says the government's initiative to set up the Rumah Sewa Siswa portal was good but more needed to be done to tackle the issue in the long run. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 23, 2022.

UNIVERSITI Malaya students are not satisfied with Putrajaya’s latest initiative to solve their accommodation woes, said Guo Shen. 

The UM student union president told The Malaysian Insight that the government’s initiative to set up the Rumah Sewa Siswa (RSS) portal had failed to provide enough accommodation within the undergraduates’ budget.

“It is a good initiative, but from the union’s point of view, the long-term plan should be to increase accommodation space to sustain at least 70% of students,” said Guo Shen. 

He said, as of now, there were about 98 listings in the portal but not all were affordable housing.  

“Maybe there will be more listings as time goes by, short-term-wise it’s better than nothing, but the students hope to see greater effort to tackle the issue. 

“We have a Telegram channel for students to look for rental houses but that channel itself has about 2,400 members so 98 listings would not be enough,” he said. 

He conceded that the union did not have a solution to solve the lodging issue in the short run.  

“More needs to be done to tackle the issue in the long run because external rental houses mean private property and landlords would set the rent at any price they wished. 

In a statement yesterday, the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) said it would continue to monitor the administration of the RSS portal to ensure more places for rental were listed at affordable rates to meet the needs of off-campus students.  

“Public universities, through the Off-Campus Student Management Unit, need to continue to accommodate and help the students concerned.  

“Students are also advised to liaise with the unit at their respective public universities for advice on house hunting, rental contracts, and other related matters,” it said.

A random check found that the average rental for rooms was about RM500, which was way beyond the average student’s budget. 

A screenshot of the Telegram channel used by UM students to find suitable accommodation. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 23, 2022.

Third-year student Nurfatin Fathihah, 21, said she did not derive much benefit from using the portal.

“Important information in the website is missing such as agent’s contact number for us to ensure that they are legitimate and not scammers. 

“Pictures of the houses or rooms are also not provided and we need to contact the person to personally ask for this information.”

However, she added that she was lucky to find a place that was not too far from campus. 

“But I have to share the house with many other students to make the cost bearable. It is still a lot compared to what I would have had to pay for in-campus lodging. 

She said the Higher Education Ministry’s initiative was a good start but still required lots of improvement.   

“Perhaps they could ask representatives from universities to share their insights on how the websites could be made better to make it easier to find houses.  

“Through this initiative, they could also give some sort of benefit to owners so that they would lower their rents. This is to encourage students to use this platform rather than other renting websites,” said Nurfatin, who hails from Kelantan. 

Another student who wanted to be known only as Hanisah, 21, said the portal was useful as a starting point for students who felt lost. 

“But apart from the expensive rooms listed, the listings are also very limited and some of them are not ideal as they are far from the university.  

She also said some of the information relating to the houses was incomplete. 

Hanisah also said that she and her friends found it easier to look for accommodation through other online platforms rather than the MOHE’s portal. 

“In my opinion, the portal should always be updated and if the houses listed are no longer available, they should be removed.  

“It will also be better if there are photos listed together with the house information. 

“The portal can maybe take examples from or propertyguru on how to improve this initiative,” she said. 

Third year student Nurfatin Fathihah, 21, says she does not derive much benefit from using the portal.– The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 23, 2022.

Third-year student Eason Lim, 21, said the portal had been beneficial for him. 

“It helps me to screen a selection of rental houses, especially as I am not familiar with Kuala Lumpur. I am from Sabah. 

“My budget allows me to meet the rent. But for most of my friends who belong to the B40 group, I can see how they are suffering on a budget of about RM200 to RM250. 

When asked what would be a better solution to solve the issue, he said that instead of helping to sort out inexpensive rental units for students, the government could build more dormitories or offer cheap rental units only to financially needy students. 

“The government might overlook the financial difficulties of undergraduate students. 

“As the number of university students keeps increasing each year, there will only be more students facing the same issue every year. It will be hard for students in the B40 category,” he said. 

Earlier this month, Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth reported that some 9,000 students had failed to secure lodgings on campus this year. 

The student body slammed the university for failing to address the lodging issue, adding that many high-achieving students from the B40 group had not secured accommodation. 

“This is the worst housing shortage in UM’s history,” it said. 

Umany blamed the scarcity of rooms on the university taking in too many students this year. 

Students then told The Malaysian Insight that they were forced to find part-time jobs to pay for off-campus lodgings. – September 23, 2022.  

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