Al-Mazza University Hostel: Thefts, Transgressions and Negligence

By: Firas Muhammad Ali  | Tharwa Exclusive | May 14, 2008

Unite 14
Damascus University Campus, Unit 14 
Many working fathers do not know if they will send their daughters or sons to Damascus for studying. The living reality and the quality of services provided make students, particularly female student’s lives, difficult. There are currently around 12 thousand students living in the university hostel in Damascus, distributed among 22 housing units.

When one enters the University hostel in Al-Mazza, for example, one should not be deceived by the beautiful scenery where you walk and see the sparkling colors of girls' clothes, the Nescafe and SyriaTel ads, the praise and applause phrases and the cultural ads here and there. Yet, the truth becomes clear as soon as you enter one of the housing buildings or what is known as the housing unit.

Inside the 14th unit, where there are thousands of female students coming from remote areas of the country, you can see piles of dirt wherever you go, dirty bathrooms, in addition to the interruption of water service for three consecutive days, and daily electricity blackouts. As a result, female students do not have anything to do except using ask male students for help in the middle of the night. Afterwards, the ceremonies of the jungle start, where thousands of male students start striking on food dishes and screaming loudly, as a result the head of the hostel,  heads of units, and security forces, all hurry to control silence in the capital of Arab culture (Damascus); students receive promises which vanish as soon as the noise fades away.

Although housing rentals have increased from 250 Syrian Lira three years ago to 3700 Syrian Lira overnight, with the excuse that extra amounts paid by students will be allocated to repairing the hostel and service development, there have been no such repairs. On the contrary, the services provided in the past years were better.

Raed Ataya, one of the university hostel residents, says, “In addition to building contracts, there are restoration contracts for the university hostel's buildings estimated at millions of Liras each year, most of which are executed by suspicious deals and provide poor restoration."

Ataya adds, "Housing units no. 12, 13, 14 and 15 in the university domicile in Al-Mazza are the best proof for any one who wants to examine the poor level of restoration and execution, collusion of receiving committees, and the non-credibility of the Department of Engineering in supervising the restoration process."

However, an engineer working in the Department of Engineering said, "Our job as engineers is limited to consultation and supervision, in addition to delivering the task to a contractor, monitoring and receiving the required tasks from him."

Bashar Al-Motlaq says, "In most cases, the quality of restoration is bad." He adds, "In 2002, two housing units (12 and 13) were restored, and the quality of restoration was very bad, so bad that it would have been better not to restore them at all. As a result the contractor fled the country and the university is currently suing him in courts. The insurance amount which the contractor left behind amounted to one million Syrian Lira, was used for the restoration of 9 bathrooms out of 90."

Rasha, a female student says: "I suggest transferring the amounts uselessly allocated for restoration to building new housing units, faculties, and departments."

On the other hand, engineer Mostafa Elsoso from the Department of Engineering in Damascus University says: "When the contractor completes restoring one of the housing units, the Department of Engineering forms a temporary receiving committee within a month, but during this month, the students ruin most of what has been restored."

He asserts: "During our inspection visits to the housing units recently handed over to students, we found that bathroom doors were put under beds, the bathroom mirrors moved to the students' rooms and the sewers clogged as a result of throwing dirt, herbs and other things in the sinks. We even had to weld the  drain cover so that students won't be able to take them."

One of his colleagues in the department says: "The university hostel is a cemetery for contractors and a turn-off for engineers." He adds: "There is only one floor out of 22 housing units that is still in a good condition. This floor is for Lebanese students studying in Damascus University."

Another engineer says "Even in units number 18 and 19 which are occupied by students in the Faculty of Medicine, bathrooms are used as toilets and students write on walls."

Prices specially for students

Anything can be made especially for students in Basel Al-Assad University Hostel, but prices are unimaginable. According to the last survey conducted on students from the middle class, a student who receives 3000 Syrian Lira per month from his parents is barely able to cover food and beverage expenses. The price list in the University Hostel is below:

Bundle of bread: 20 Syrian Lira
Tomatoes: 55 Syrian Lira
Cucumber: 35 Syrian Lira
Lemon: 60 Syrian Lira
Banana: 60 Syrian Lira
Apple: 80 Syrian Lira
Internet: 50 Syrian Lira per hour
Hair shaving (for men): 75 Syrian Lira
Hair styling (for women): 100 Syrian Lira
Gas filling (small): 135 Syrian Lira
Alo university card: 155 Syrian Lira
One kilo of rice: 55 Syrian Lira

The price of electric equipment is also outrageous and students are forced to buy lamps, switchgears and other necessary equipment at their own expense as it is not provided by the university.

Water is supposed to be heated 3 times a week, but in reality, students are forced to go to the first unit, where students in The Faculty of Medicine live, to get hot water. This unit is the only one which has a good level of service, though there are endless problems between students arguing over who gets to use the bathroom first.

Ahmed, a fourth year English language student says: "I have been living in this hostel for five years and I know it very well. The biggest and most important problem is that seven or eight students occupy the same room for one principal reason; the individual responsible for receiving the rooms sells them to people outside the hostel who are sometimes not even students. He gives them forged housing cards in return for unrealistic amounts reaching 30 thousand Syrian Lira per room!"

As for the hostel's security, a student comments: "You can find friendships and love affairs in a place like the university hostel where there are boys and girls. This is not a problem since they are grownups, but the issue is that they became animals seeking to satisfy their sexual instincts in public. By God, privacy is good, but what do the guards and police have to do with safeguarding the university, especially with the presence of private security companies? And what does the party have to do with the administration of the university hostel and its affiliation to the Ministry of Higher Education? "

One of the students who preferred to be called Abou-Hatem sarcastically said, "What is all this luxury? Four students only in one room? Oh, not much!! Honestly they should be five or six… this means that the individual responsible for the unit will not have three unoccupied rooms left! What a shame, the situation has been bad for 10 years, and is always going from bad to worse."

Mr. Dureid, one of the affected parents’ comments, "The university and the Ministry of Education are responsible for housing. If the problem lies in the number of students, why don't they build enough units for all those who need housing? Where is the money collected from students as fees, why is it not used to solve the problem? I am a father of five children, two in the university and hostel and I am suffering with them. They say that no one listens to them except the individual responsible for the unit, who sometimes can not do anything since he is a student like us."

Ali, an Arabic literature student complains, "The Student Union is the only authority working in the hostel. I live in unit no. 12, the union is the only authority which pays attention to our problems, and attends workshops if there is a breakdown in the hostel."

Another student has a different opinion, he says: "Do they have to send engineers to protect the university hostel and prevent stealing taps, mirrors, doors, and windows? If most students living in the university hostel consider this place temporary, and that consequently, it is not important to take care of cleanliness and organization, why should the engineering affairs be held guilty?"