ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR / LAHORE / KARACHI: Dorms are places where you live away from your parents for the first time in your life (microeconomics). You learn how to make a bong from a soft drink can (mechanical engineering). You learn what it is like to be alone (Theory of Relativity). You discover not to wash whites with colours (biochemical synthesis).
Chances are you are living away from home because your parents won’t let you study abroad, you wanted to get away from your parents, your hometown’s idea of higher education is limited to long-distance learning. In any case, we decided to provide a little information so you know what to expect.
If you are going to the Ghulam Ishaque Khan Institute of Topi, you won’t have a choice but to live on campus. “This is because of the tight study schedule,” explains hostel manager Farruk Naveed. You will be placed at one of its 10 dormitories along with 1,500 classmates. The good news is that you get wi-fi, central heating, air-conditioning and even a swimming pool.
And while you have a choice with the Lahore University of Management Sciences, you’ll almost want to stay on campus. “Given our hectic study schedule, I really couldn’t afford to stay anywhere off campus,” says Maham Imtiaz from the Chasma Barrage area. She described the LUMS hostel experience as “heaven on earth”.
If you are headed to Islamabad or Rawalpindi, know that nine out of 15 public sector universities have dorms. Public universities Bahria, Air and Wifaqi Urdu university have no dorms. Not a single private or semi-government university in the twin cities offers housing (SZABIST, Mohammad Ali Jinnah University, National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences/FAST, and Iqra University).
Places like COMSATS, Islamabad that don’t have on-campus housing still accommodate their students, although far away (Rs45,000 per semester). The assistant warden at its boys’ hostel, Asif Shafi, said they offer subsidised transport.
But one of the girls who lives in a Comsats facility in Sector H-8, 15km from campus, said that if she misses the morning bus, she has to pay Rs200 for a taxi. A better example is QAU Islamabad’s subsidised shuttle service to the city center every 45 minutes.
Rawalpindi Medical College owns four hostels but a student said she and other girls were accommodated six kilometres off campus near Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan Square on Rawal Road. “Accessing the library is the biggest issue for us,” she added.
Pakistan Institute for Development Economics, Islamabad has two off-campus hostels — for girls in Faizabad and for boys in Chak Shehzad. Although the hostels are far from campus, the institute provides transport in two shifts (Rs2,000 per semester). One student described the hostels as comfortable and peaceful even if they weren’t that big.
QUA, Islamabad (above)
Too close for comfort
Do check overcrowding when choosing. A veterinary sciences student at Pir Mehr Ali Shah University of Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi warns that up to six students are stuffed into one room. You can perhaps sleep in such an arrangement, he says, but forget about trying to get any studying done. Don’t be taken in by the rates of about Rs5,000 a semester for boarding.
A Rawalpindi Medical College student described their overcrowding in an off-campus dorm: “At least two to three girls live in each room, which is a 10-by-10 foot den.”
Punjab University’s 28 on-campus hostels are the most sought after, because they are cheap, starting at Rs1,800 per month. But you only get a room if you are enrolled in the morning programme. While you may get to use the wi-fi, gym, laundry room and even an on-campus tailor, beware of the sanitation complaints. “The buildings are old and naturally the up-keep is difficult,” said student Maria Qanita. And because the rooms are in such demand there is overcrowding — five girls sharing a space for four. Oh and you sometimes get a charpoy instead of a bed (but that might be more hygienic).
On some campuses watch out for the political student wings. A PhD student at International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI), who wanted to remain unnamed, spoke of constant interference from at least three student unions. “Hostel rules [seem] to apply only for students who aren’t affiliated with these student wings,” he says wryly. “We are discriminated against. Even our guests are not allowed to enter the mess. But the […] or members of any other union can easily get a space for their guests in the hostels.”
The provost of the IIU male section, Dr Hafiz Abid Masood, denied that student political wings had any influence. But at the same time, he apologetically admitted that to their existence by saying, “What university doesn’t have these unions?”
At Peshawar University, six to seven students live in one room and many of them are not PU students. One student complained that they were affiliated with the student organisations, smoked hashish and listened to loud music. “These guys in the administration know about it but the student organisations are a real trouble and they avoid any tussle with them.”
In Karachi, it has been much worse with political meddling leading to the closure of hostels. So, for example, Karachi University closed its boys’ hostel in 1994. The girls’ hostel and one for international students are the only ones on campus right now and accommodate about 350 in total. As a result, the out-station students, such as the ones from Gilgit-Baltistan, end up renting flats near Safoora Chowrangi at the end of University Road. With four people sharing a flat the rent comes to about Rs6,000 per month with meals.
Punjab University, Lahore (above)
The creature comforts of life include an electric kettle to make 2 am coffee for study marathons, a microwave to reheat a leftover dinner and the all-important air conditioner. You’d be lucky to find a hostel that has ACs in the rooms. But some places will allow you to install one at an extra charge. If not that, a room cooler for Rs500 a month.
But if you are living on-campus at Peshawar University, you’ll find yourself studying in the lawn when the temperature goes up because the ACs are usually broken. At LUMS there are no ACs in the rooms but in the common rooms, where you will find people sleeping in the stifling summers.
At the IIU, which has 11 hostels for 5,000 outstation students, you can use stoves in your room but you are not allowed to install an AC. But this is still better than places like Forman Christian College hostels that won’t let you keep a TV or heater let alone an AC.
In October 2009, two suicide bombers blew up the cafeteria of the International Islamic University. Three women and two men were killed. NUML had to cancel its convocation in 2009 after it received threats. Today the campus looks like a garrison with checks on student bags and ID. “As GIKI is located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, there are security threats all the times,” says Assad Sulaiman, a recent graduate. But there are night patrols and military check posts at the back where the jungle starts.
The popular places
While Pakistan may not have any ivy leagues, it certainly does have some historic campuses. Perhaps the most beautiful hostels across Peshawar district are the 10 of Islamia College. For instance the Victorian-style Qayum Manzil was established in 1914 and the nearby Butler Hostel in 1913. They have 36 rooms each that take four beds. The best part is the fountain in the middle of each building.
Every student pays Rs3,200 for food and Rs21,000 per annum for boarding. “[This] is out of reach for most students… but let me tell you the quality of food is good and our hostels are neat and clean,” said one student. The Islamia College students were the only ones who did not complain.
Khyber Medical College (KMC) also ranks up there because of its quality housing and cheap food. Rooms at Qasim Hall and Razi Hall cost Rs10,300 per annum. You can install your own AC for an extra charge. You get a first class bed and a variety of meals for Rs45 and you can eat as much as you like. No outsiders are allowed.
The hostels of Agricultural University and the University of Engineering are in comparatively good shape but students said they did not come close to the KMC standards.
In Karachi, the private Aga Khan University is known for maintaining the best housing on-campus and off-campus for around 500 students. The university charges Rs13,000 a month from Pakistani students while overseas students pay $130.
Peshawar University’s hostels are also spacious and beautiful with large lawns, fountains, common rooms and dining rooms. Expect to pay Rs18,600 per annum for a room for two. Larger rooms have been divided over the years to keep up with demand. The downside is that you’ll be lucky to find drinking water after noon. There are few checks on outsiders.
Dow International Medical College in Karachi has on-campus housing, specifically for international students. It gets a lot of students from the UAE, US and Canada. They need to pay Rs8,000 on average per month for boarding and lodging but they get their money’s worth. The facilities include ACs, folding beds, plenty of space for clothes and books.
Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration did not respond to repeated requests for information for this story.
Islamia College, Peshawar (above)
On your own
If you are a private university student, there is a high chance that your institution will not offer housing. This will leave you with the choice of living with family or friends or winging it at a private hostel — which is big business these days but more in the sweatshop kind of way.
This is how Rao Ali Sarfaraz of MAJU Islamabad put it: “Living in private hostels in the twin cities is like self-detention in Kot Lakhpat jail.”
One of your biggest priorities should be regular power supply. In Rawalpindi, for example, Rao Ali Sarfaraz’s private hostel owner isn’t pushed to get a generator and now the student feels his grades will suffer.
Don’t be taken in with the cheap rents. Forman Christian College students who look for housing in Main Market in Gulberg and Jail road can get apartments for Rs5,000 but don’t have generators. Another option are the Pak-Turk hostels on main Jail road that charge Rs10,000 per person for a four-person room (including two meals, gas, water and parking). You pay Rs2,000 for an AC.
In most cases, it is better to stay on campus because they have the infrastructure. Fourth-year LUMS student Ahsan Usmani has been living at the boys hostel but looked for an off-campus residence for social reasons. (You aren’t allowed to have visitors after 9:30 pm on campus.) But he decided not to move out because the incessant power failures jacked up the cost of living off campus.
The other worry with private hostels is overcrowding. This explains the mushroom growth in the past 15 years in Peshawar around University Road, Hayatabad and Hasthnagri.
“The hostel is a good business. Just rent a residential 20 marla house with at least seven rooms and you can accommodate 28 students which means Rs56,000 minimum,” said one owner. “You can use the store and even the garage as a room. You can make rooms by using partitions if the drawing room is large enough.”
Private hostels think they are doing you a favour by providing cheap rooms on the expensive Peshawar University Road neighborhood. “This is an area where public transport is easily available 24 hours a day and there is comparative peace too,” said Sameeullah, the warden of a private hotel.
But the cheap places at Rs2,500 are barely inhabitable. “I have rented a room because it is almost walking distance from my coaching centre,” said student Bilal who has come to Peshawar to prepare for a medical entrance test. “Otherwise it is a dirty hostel and nearly all hostels in this area are similar.
Ibrar Khan said he had no choice but to find a place off University Road. “Look at the condition of this room we have to share,” he said. “It is a small room and we don’t even have a foam mattress let alone a bed despite the fact that there are lots of insects in the summers.”
Hayatabad has more than a dozen places where you will pay about Rs3,500 in rent and about Rs2,500 for food a month. They are cramped at four a room but neater. But the owners squeeze four people per medium-sized room. They say they can charge more because the houses are in good shape.
But be aware that the Peshawar Development Authority has prohibited hostels in houses in Hayatabad. “Every night we fear that our hostel could be raided and we could be forced out,” said student Sajjad Khan. “It is a permanent tension despite the fact that we pay full rent.”
Another downside is that you’ll probably be responsible for your own meals as the private hostels don’t have proper dining rooms and large kitchens. Some of them might have an arrangement with a restaurant nearby. “We eat at a nearby hotel which costs us Rs2,500 per month minimum,” said Khalid, an Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan student who has a room off University road.
Of course, there are students who willingly choose to live off campus in private hostels. One fourth-year GCU student moved out because visitors were not allowed. “Even my father could not come in the room,” he said. GCU students tend to look in Anarkali where rent is low, starting at Rs4,000. The buildings are old but this may appeal to some. “I like the fact that I get to live cheaply and get a flavour of the city as well,” explained student Haider. Now that is the old romantic notion of student life. Poor but happy.
The Lahore University of Management Sciences houses almost 1,800 students in their 10 on-campus residential buildings. Expect to pay about Rs24,500 per semester, Rs5,000 per month for a room, including electricity. But you have to pay more for appliances. You have a kitchen with a refrigerator, stove, iron, water cooler, microwave and toaster. But live-in students can cook at the Pepsi Dining Centre. Vegetarian meals cost Rs35 and non-vegetarian Rs100 upwards. You have a doctor on campus five times a week from 3 pm to 7 pm and an emergency line is available 24 hours a day. Beauticians come in five times a week.
Who can study indoors in such beautiful surroundings?
By Saad Khan
If any place comes to close to matching the setting of Malory Towers, the famous British Enid Blyton boarding house series, it is Abbottabad. The pine-covered hill station in Hazara division has beautiful weather and real winters. But it isn’t that cut off that you can’t pop over to Islamabad or Peshawar, which are close by. That is if the warden allows you to leave by the main gate.
Of particular note are institutions such as Army Burn Hall School & College, which prides itself on preparing the next generation of soldiers who go on to join the army. The campus is located on Mansehra Road where Matric, O’Level streams are offered. Expect to pay between Rs125,000 and Rs250,000 per annum which includes boarding, lodging and messing.
For roughly the same price, is Abbottabad Public School spread over 55 acres and surrounded by lush green hills. Students are taken from class 7 to 12 and take either pre-engineering or pre-medical groups at the intermediate level. The institution is entirely boarding with seven hostels loftily named after Iqbal, Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Sir Syed and even Tipu Sultan. Day scholars can stay at Rehman House. You can mess around in the common room but no watching dirty movies on the TV there. Expect to pay Rs150,000 upwards per annum.
Ayub Medical College and Teaching Hospital on the Karakoram Highway has hostels but not messing or laundry. Expect to share a room with two students. Women Medical College improves on this by boarding you at its off-campus hostels if it can’t find you a place on campus. This way it accommodates all 500 students. Huge plus point is studying at the historic Hoti Palace campus over 50 kanals. Expect to pay Rs350,000 per annum which includes boarding and lodging but not transport.
The much larger Comsats University, located on 308 kanals, had a modest beginning in World War II barracks but now has 5,500 students. It has three blocks for 750 male students and one for 100 female students to stay in. Fee, which includes boarding and lodging and messing, comes to about Rs105,000.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 28th, 2013.