BM83: Resolution on University Building Rehabilitation

25.11.2022
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University building rehabilitation has been the subject of debate for a long time, without sufficient measures to counter the issue of university buildings falling apart. Nowadays, the situation has worsened to an extreme point.  

Regarding the situation in France, we were surprised a few years ago to discover that universities had to launch a call for a project for renovating the buildings. The ones with the best project could see their classes rehabilitated, and the others were let down, which created a concurrency between different components in the same university.  

The universities need buildings to fulfil their first missions: teaching and researching. This need is less and less the primary factor in deciding whether some work needs to be done or not. This highlights the alarming way lack of finances forces universities to change their decision-making.  

Aside from this fanciful way of dealing with a problem, our building were less and less fulfilling their initial function: our academic library were closing because of plumbery issues, our classes became unusable, and some universities had to launch austerity plans in order to save the university finance and avoid having to file the balance sheet.

Today, those plans didn’t save our universities as they are getting less and less capable of investing in new buildings (which is necessary to welcome an increasing number of students each year). Some classes are still closed because the asbestos removal work couldn’t be completed.  

We sadly had to celebrate the 15th anniversary of precast buildings that were supposed to stay on campus for at most 5 years. Moreover, some universities decided to reduce the weekly hourly schedule by 12 hours for each degree because of a lack of buildings.  

In France, the NRRP plan (amount: 40 billion €) was included in the France Reliance plan (amount: 100 billion €). The part of the funds allowed for public building renovation was 2.6 billion €, with 1.2 billion € dedicated to higher education. If this amount sounds reasonable, it is still behind expectations and way behind needs.  

Indeed, the higher education finance paradigm has changed: from constant funds a few decades ago, universities now have to deal with calls for projects and calls of excellence under the name of PIA. Indeed, the amount of money per student given to universities has considerably decreased in the last decades. Only the universities best suited to the call’s criteria have access to funds.  

The law for university freedom of action and responsibilities (LRU 2007), along with the reduction of constant funds, led universities to stop investing in their real estate patrimony and to prioritise other missions. Today the situation is alarming, and France is still ranked in the middle tier of academic freedom by the European Commission despite the LRU law.  

This situation had led many French universities to use asymmetric fungibility in order to tackle the most urgent situations, but without being able to reinvest properly in their buildings’ rehabilitations. The buildings of the universities that do not access those funds are still falling apart as we talk.  

In the context of the energy crisis, this situation led us to some senseless situations: The over-cost universities have to pay today to open would have been reduced significantly if rehabilitation had been made before. Some university building heating systems haven’t been touched since the 80s. The lack of long-term investment leads us to monthly sur-cost and leaves us with increasing bills by lack of decision. 

Regarding the situation in Italy, the main allocations adopted by the government for residential and university buildings are two: 1.127 billion euros (of which 960 million euros from the NRRP) for the renovation, regeneration and construction of university residences and 1.4 billion euros for the same interventions but reserved for other university structures. 

This amount represents the largest investment in university residences and buildings in the last 25 years. Still, it is not enough to respond to the huge underfunding that has hit this sector. 

The deterioration of the buildings is so high that universities are forced to decide whether to repair old buildings or build new ones, with consequences that often seriously endanger students’ lives. There are many examples of collapses or dangerous situations: before the covid 19 pandemic, during a strong storm, the roof of a classroom of the Milan Polytechnic collapsed during a lesson; again, due to the rain, water infiltrations occurred at the University of Trento and the last October 18th the “Aula Magna” of the University of Cagliari collapsed: fortunately, no students were present at that time. Furthermore, many university residences are inaccessible because they are unsafe (e.g., University of Naples “Federico II”). 

As Unione degli Universitari (UDU) we immediately worked to find a solution to this problem. Working together with the FILLEA CGIL (the construction and woodworkers union) and trying to speak with the municipal administrations of some sample university cities, we are identifying disused city buildings that can be converted into university buildings and residences. We aim to develop a project to exploit these buildings, filling the need for university spaces. Although the studies are at an advanced stage in some cases, the ministry has never considered it necessary to receive us to discuss the university’s structural and housing emergency. 

Therefore, the European Students’ Union, along with FAGE and UDU, urge and demand the Governments of France and Italy:  

  • To launch a national call for university building rehabilitation to the standards, regardless of their ranking and regardless of their academic field.  
  • To study the extension needs of the university to welcome an increasing number of students and to finance the necessary extensions 
  • To operate the rehabilitation of heating types of machinery according to the country’s green energy strategy
  • Greater involvement of student representatives in these procedures 
  • To set up databases on the situation of all university buildings and residences and make the data public
  • To carry out national security checks on the state of all the university structures.

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