The Next Generation Student Dormitory Living Environment Improvement Project
“Four Arrows” to Create Optimal Dormitory Living Conditions for A New Generation
If you ask people who are over the age of 40 about what their colleges and universities dormitory was like, they would inevitably say, “It was like a messy concentration camp for students”, “The dormitory bathroom was cold”, or “It felt like the bed would collapse at any moment.” Even the Director of the Department of Higher Education, Mr. Chun-Chang Chu, says that his memory of the dormitory was “dark and gloomy.” The most common answer is “It was just a place to sleep.”
In fact, with the changes of learning patterns in this new generation, the dormitory is no longer to be regarded as “just a place to sleep,” but becoming a place for meaningful, interesting, and integrated learning, community exchange, and teamwork. More and more schools are breaking the dormitory stereotypes, using various forms of construction, reconstruction, and renovation to increase the usefulness of newly built dormitories, and giving old ones new life.
The Dean of Student Affairs at Tamkang University (TKU), Dr. Shih-Jung Wu, observes that the development of digital technology makes the entire campus a different kind of learning environment. Learning has also improved through a link to daily life. With the financial support of the Ministry of Education (MOE), TKU has initiated the “New East Village” Dormitory Renovation Project.
In this project, TKU not only renovated old dormitories, but also employed the concept of the “village” to establish multiple places for students to study, rest, and converse within the five dormitories. This interconnected village will be surrounded by restaurants, an exhibition hall, a library, a sports field, and the College of Foreign Languages and Literature. The dormitory is fluidly integrated into the campus and is a lot more than “just a place to sleep.”
A Clear Lack of Dormitory Quantity and Quality
Newly constructed dormitories have also become an attractive feature for student recruitment. However, every year, there are more than 200,000 students who need to board off-campus because of the lack of dormitory space, thus increasing student living expenses and weakening the cohesiveness of campus learning life.
According to a MOE survey in 2019, for every one million students in colleges and universities, 560,000 college and university students want to live on campus, but there are only 300,000 beds, which means that almost half the students are left with no dormitory to live in.
In addition to the quantitative lack of space, the Director of the Department of Higher Education, Mr. Chun-Chang Chu, pointed out that the quality of dormitories also needs urgent improvement. In the Higher Education SPROUT Project initiated by the MOE in 2018, one primary aspect emphasizes learning together, interdisciplinarity, and social services. Yet the MOE and schools have gradually realized that in order to achieve these goals, a learning environment should not only focus on what happens in the classrooms; off-campus and dormitory environments should also be considered.
In 2019, with the backing of the President, Ms. Ing-Wen Tsai, and other supportive individuals, the MOE initiated the “Disadvantaged Student Aid Project Enhancement Measures (Off-Campus Rental Subsidies) and Next Generation Student Dormitory Living Environment Improvement Project” (the Dormitory Improvement Project, for short) with its four arrows from four directions aiming to simultaneously improve the quantity and quality of student dormitory living conditions, “and to make the dormitory improvement project a new campus movement,” says Chu.
Four Strategies to Improve Dormitory Quantity and Quality
With these four arrows loaded and ready, the MOE aims to comprehensively improve student dormitory living conditions with a budget of five billion over a period of five years.
First, with the lack of beds, the MOE will try to increase the motivation for colleges and universities to build new dormitories or expand existing ones. The first arrow is a loan to subsidize the interest on money borrowed to build on-campus dormitories.
Unlike expenses for classrooms and teaching facilities, dormitories recoup their costs through student dormitory fees. Since a dormitory consists of a self-liquidating loan, most schools built dormitories with loans, having to spend large sums of money every year on interest payments.
To encourage the building of new dormitories, the MOE has decided to subsidize up to 100% of the interest on construction loans for dormitory renovations, including retrofitting school buildings into dormitories. In terms of new dormitories, the MOE will subsidize up to a maximum of 50% on the loan interest. Mr. Chu emphasizes that in contrast to the past MOE subsidies for loans on interest payment of up to only 100 million per school, this project can subsidize even more to provide incentives to schools to renovate or build new dormitories.
Since this first arrow was fired off in January 2020, six schools have already applied as of February 2022 with four approved by the MOE, providing subsidies worth approximately 980 million in total for 3,665 new beds. In the next 20 years, the MOE estimates this project will assist schools with approximately 196 million in interest, namely, there would be an annual subsidy of 9.84 million.
The results of the project have so far been rolling in, but have not been ideal. Currently, the first arrow is facing two main difficulties.
First, land for new dormitories is scarce, especially for schools located near city centers. Second, with the declining birth rate, schools are concerned that there may be a lack of student enrollment, leaving these new dormitories empty. Therefore, their motivation for building new dormitories has dramatically decreased. In response to these concerns, the MOE is promoting loan interest subsidies in hopes of lessening the financial burden on schools.
The second arrow is subsidies for temporarily empty beds in off-campus student public housing. To get around the issue of land scarcity, the MOE is formulating a policy akin to the Ministry of Interior’s Rental Management Policy for public housing to encourage schools to rent out apartment buildings near campus that comply with fire and safety codes. For schools that lease out a specific percentage of beds, the MOE will subsidize up to 10% of shortfalls due to temporarily empty beds in order to lessen the financial burden.
Unfortunately, the second arrow still has many practical issues that need to be resolved. For example, suitable apartment buildings are hard to locate, as owners of properties near campus prefer to lease to students directly, and buildings which are located further away are less attractive to students.
However, Mr. Chu points out that the MOE is planning to resolve these practical issues and alleviate school worries by increasing student recruitment. In these past few years, the number of international students in the Republic of China (R.O.C. Taiwan) has fluctuated because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The MOE will adopt multiple strategies to help schools to recruit international students, and use this opportunity to build international dormitories for local and international students to live and learn together, as well as engage in cultural exchanges. Through these efforts, the MOE hopes to increase the accessibility of student public housing to all students.
At the same time, another main goal of the MOE Dormitory Improvement Project is to upgrade the quality of dormitories. After extensive evaluation, the MOE launched its third arrow: subsidies for comprehensive improvement of dormitory design and overall floor plan. The ultimate goal is to transform the dormitory from “just a place to sleep” into another place for student-led learning.
This third arrow has recently led to the best results in promoting the goals of the Dormitory Improvement Project as a new campus movement. From January 2020 to February 2022, 42 schools have sent 58 applications for campus dormitory improvement subsidies with the MOE having approved a total of 27 applications, costing approximately 1.23 billion in subsidies for 25,245 beds.
The fourth arrow is to subsidize off-campus rent for disadvantaged students. The MOE had already given priority for middle-low-income students at a decreased cost to live in campus dormitories, but there are still many disadvantaged students who cannot live on campus due to family or personal reasons. In response, the MOE decided to subsidize 1,200 to 1,800 in rental fees per student on a monthly basis, depending on the market rate of each city, assisting approximately 5,000 students every year.
When the dormitory becomes a new learning environment, the Dormitory Improvement Project will also become a new campus movement. The MOE believes that, a decade later, students from the next generation will describe their dormitory memories not just as “dark and gloomy,” but as a cheerful place to learn.