Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education (MSTTE) Fazal Karim is working feverishly to establish a policy framework to provide rent subsidies to all tertiary students. Karim made the disclosure yesterday at a consultation with landlords who are being accused by university students of providing poor accommodation at astronomical rentals. Attending the open discussion at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine were scores of landlords, UWI's principal Prof Clement Sankat, president of UWI's Undergraduate Student Guild Hillan Morean and Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, the MP for St Augustine. Addressing the landlords, who own property from Trincity to Mt D'Or, Karim admitted that provision of accommodation for university students is left largely to market forces.
Of the 15,462 students enrolled at UWI, Karim said, there is need for accommodation for 14,000 UWI students and those accessing tertiary education within the St Augustine district. Karim said while the university has established mechanisms to register landlords, "there exist no mechanisms to monitor prices, ensure quality accommodation, minimise security anxiety or seek the interests of the landlords and students." In the near future, Karim said, the MSTTE and the Health Ministry will establish a committee that will make recommendations to establish mechanisms for the provision of subsidies "on rents to all students residing in the region and who are registered at tertiary institutions in the area."
The committee will also establish quality standards for ranking student accommodation and for meeting safety requirements of students. Karim also admitted that security in and around UWI had become an issue, which he would have to be address. Ramadhar said Government was considering expanding the number of apartment units at UWI and erecting buildings off campus to deal with the high rental fee students are forced to pay. Ramadhar said what adds to the problem is the lapsing by the Rent Assessment Board. "We nationally had to debate the issue if this country would go into a free market in terms of rent or rent restriction."
Ramadhar said he would like to see free market forces determine rents. Attorney Kelvin Ramkissoon said for far too long students of St Augustine have been short-changed by landlords, calling on Ramadhar to increase the quality and integrity of accommodation.
Landlords who spoke, raised the issue of inadequate security, a proper shuttle service for students, flooding and even emphasised a better partnership between the student body and themselves.