Why many students have to commute to university

As of: April 14, 2024 3:02 p.m

Commuting instead of university life: Many students cannot find a place to stay at the start of the semester. The demand for affordable housing is huge. Commuting from outside and looking for accommodation puts a lot of strain on students.

The sun shimmers through the trees of Efferen. In the morning, the town of 13,000 seems just as sleepy as Stacy Ogembo. The 26-year-old is on her way to the train to commute to her lecture in downtown Cologne. Like almost every day.

Of course the young woman wants to live in the city itself, but that is almost impossible for the political science student. “Looking for accommodation is time-consuming and puts a lot of strain on me. I’m stressed about constantly looking for accommodation in Cologne,” says Ogembo.

She has been studying at Cologne University since 2022 and has been looking for an affordable place in the city ever since. “One of my biggest challenges is the high level of competition for the available small and expensive shared rooms.” The search is even more stressful, especially for students from abroad, as many fraudsters try to take advantage of their situation and, for example, want to collect commissions.

Even though she appreciates Cologne as a lively and cosmopolitan city, Stacy Ogembo imagined student life here to be different – or at least somewhere else. “I would be very grateful if the state would support us here and address the problem.” A problem that is known and that has recently become worse nationwide.

Housing market continues to deteriorate

“The situation on the housing market has deteriorated further for students in the past year,” explains Michael Voigtländer from IW Cologne. The scientist researches the development of the real estate market and analyzes the situation for students every year. “As homeownership becomes more expensive, more people are looking to rent, which increases competition in this segment.” His team examined 38 locations in Germany. Conclusion: On average, rents rose by 6.2 percent in 2023.

“Not only did basic rents increase, but also additional housing costs. What is particularly challenging for students is that their incomes are stagnating and only a few are benefiting from the BAföG reform,” says Voigtländer.

The KfW student loan, which is intended to help all students, is also very unattractive due to very high interest rates. For small shared rooms you would have to pay more than 300 euros per month in most locations – significantly more in the particularly high-priced locations.

Location as a criterion for choosing a course of study

According to IW Cologne, students should not only check the quality of the courses, but also the situation in the local housing market. “In addition to the East German university locations, some West German cities such as Bochum and Saarbrücken also have clear cost advantages,” says Michael Voigtländer.

Katyayni Ganesan is 24 years old. She is doing her doctorate at the Faculty of Mathematics in Cologne. According to the young woman, you would have to move out of the city to find affordable housing. “Then commuting becomes very difficult because Deutsche Bahn is not that reliable,” says Ganesan.

“I moved to Cologne exactly a year ago and started looking for an apartment more than four months before I moved. I thought about moving into a shared apartment to save money because my apartment is expensive. But I know that a lot of people who fight for months for a place.”

So she stays in her apartment, which she actually can’t afford. “I pay a lot more than I would like, but I can’t imagine getting back into the real estate market now,” says Ganesan.

Politics is required

Above all, politics is required, says scientist Michael Voigtländer. Overall, the conditions for housing construction need to be significantly improved. Cities like Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Cologne in particular should position themselves better as university locations. “In addition to the increased designation of building land at university locations in the current situation, this also includes tax incentives for investors,” says Voigtländer.

If there are fewer apartment advertisements and at the same time more students are looking, that is a problem. “The frustrating thing about the situation is that it will tend to become even more difficult in the next few years,” predicts Voigtländer.

A problem that forces people like Stacy Ogembo to move out of the university town that she actually likes so much. “I’m looking forward to the summer in Cologne, to events and to meeting people in the city.” But she also knows that she has to catch the train every time to go to her small student room. The circumstances on the housing market will force you, like many students in Germany, to continue commuting.

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