- One room, 3m x 4m in size.
- One bed, approximately king size, but with a rattan mat instead of a proper mattress.
- One cooking corner with a small stove, adjacent to a tiny, dirty bathroom.
- Only a tin roof and a dilapidated wooden ceiling protect the inhabitants from the elements.
- In the dry season, piped water only runs about four hours per day.
- In the rainy season, electricity is intermittent, with daily blackouts that are several hours long.
This place we visited was a student accommodation shared by five university students, who will continue to live here for the entire duration of their study. Two of them were studying to become teachers, while the other three were pursuing engineering degrees in mining. All of them came to the city from villages around Hanoi in hopes that a university degree will open more doors to a better life.
According to them, most rental housing for students in Hanoi are of similar condition: small and dirty, with intermittent water and electricity. The reason why they choose to live in such conditions is the price: room rent is VND 1.2 million (US$ 60) per month, which means that sharing with several roommates is the only viable option.
Even with the lower rental price, all five of them have to work part-time in order to survive. One day’s work (4-5 hours) yields one free meal and VND 50,000 (US$ 2.5) in take home pay. When we asked them about scholarships, they commented that government or school scholarships are “barely enough for pocket money”.
This begs the question: how do we help students in this situation?
Do we provide more scholarships for poor/disadvantaged students? This might not have much impact, because most scholarships reward the top students rather than the average. Spreading out the funds to reach more students might then spread the money too thinly.
Do we build better quality student housing? Again, there are several limitations to the scope of improvements. Demand for cheap, good quality student housing will completely outstrip the supply, and prices will eventually be driven upwards. Also, maintaining the quality of housing while keeping prices down is sure to be unsustainable in the long run.
If the housing situation is too difficult to address, do we focus on other areas of their lives, such as their wages or the quality of their education? On the surface, this seems more viable. However, donating money or facilities to higher education institutions hardly seems prudent, given the extent of the problems in the lower education levels.
What do you think would be the best way to help these poor migrant students improve their lives? Let us know in the comments!
If you want to read more about our visit to Hanoi, read ATM Bulletin 18: Empowering Hanoi’s Poor.