The University of Hong Kong has made an urgent appeal to staff to share their homes with hundreds of non-local students who could be homeless due to a serious delay in completion of the university's new hostel.
The call, which went out this week, has prompted questions from staff and students about its likely effectiveness and why it was made only weeks before the start of the new academic year.
The residential college under construction in Western will accommodate 1,800 students and was expected to be ready this summer. But students have been told that the first two blocks will not be ready until the end of September and the remaining two in October or November.
Of the 1,800 rooms, first-year local students will occupy 350, non-local 750, postgraduates 600 and current undergraduates 100, Students Union president Dan Chan Koon-hong said yesterday.
Builder Chun Wo Development did not comment on the delay.
But in two consecutive e-mails sent to staff on Wednesday and yesterday Albert Chau, dean of student affairs, urged staff to offer "a spare room" in their homes to non-local students from late this month until October. "By offering or renting out your room, you will not only give the students a unique experience of HKU culture, you will help the students and university to tide over the hard time."
An academic staff member who declined to be named said the university could have planned better and it would be more practical to turn to holiday camps for space. "How many staff have large houses with extra rooms to rent out at such short notice?" the academic asked.
Chan said students were worried. "I hope they have plan B. I'm not sure if hundreds of staff will be willing to give students a spare room," he said.
Journalism professor Thomas Abraham said the university's request was reasonable, "but I won't be willing to do it because there's no one to take care of the student".
Delayed completion of hostels has also affected Polytechnic University and the University of Science and Technology.
But the problem faced by non-local students at the HKU is the most acute. Only 48 per cent of dormitory applications made by non-local students were accepted last year, the lowest amongst all publicly subsidised universities.
The shortage is further complicated by the double intake of students this year, due to reforms in the education system, and the high rents for flats near the university. An old flat of about 600 sq ft in Pok Fu Lam is currently about HK$13,000 a month, 10 times the rental of a single room in the university's new hostel.
A university spokesperson said it had alternatives such as turning staff quarters into temporary hostels, adding that the university did not have absolute control over hostel admissions of local or non-local students due to a "long-entrenched tradition of autonomy" given to hostels.