Vitality disaster: At universities, college students are more and more freezing

CASE. Universities struggle to heat their premises, which are often poorly insulated. Rising energy costs are exacerbating a problem that has plagued students for years: the cold in lecture halls and classrooms.

At universities, rising energy costs have a direct impact on students and employees. “We put on the sweaters because it’s not very hot. And this is the case in several universities, not only in Lille,” testifies Claire-Anne, student of sociology at the University of Lille (59).

A familiar situation

Like student precariousness before the health crisis, this problem existed in Ukraine before the war. The energy crisis only underscores and exacerbates it. “We have been pointing out this issue for a number of years. For years, students and teachers have been wearing down jackets in the amphitheaters, let alone the rooms where it rains. University buildings are huge thermal sieves and we have been waiting for this crisis to deal with it,” said Imane Ouelhadj, president of the student union Unef.

Indeed, a report by the Court of Auditors published last month points to the dilapidation of some university buildings. “They haven’t been renovated in years. With this crisis we are faced with a fait accompli. It’s dramatic, the number of students is increasing and we’re noticing that the universities are collapsing,” adds Claire-Anne.

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“Last year we closed a library because the heating wasn’t working”

The situation varies from institution to institution. On the one hand, not everyone has the same framework. For example, some historic buildings require extensive renovation and still have single glazing. The climate also plays a role: the universities of Lille or Strasbourg have lower temperatures than the universities of the Côte d’Azur or Aix-Marseille. Finally, the financial situation of the companies must be taken into account. “For a university, heating for a few days can mean tens of millions of euros,” stresses Etienne Matignon, president of the Fage student association.

The building where Claire-Anne studies is old. “We have an aging heritage at this university and are just beginning to rehabilitate buildings. However, some collapse. Last year we closed a library because the heating stopped working,” testifies the student.

Saving at the expense of the students

Etienne Matignon confirms this observation: The Fage has already received feedback on the cold in the amphitheaters in recent years. Many universities were slow to turn on the heaters. “We don’t blame them, they don’t have the resources. They have to save money at the expense of students and staff. When we talk about university underfunding, that’s a reality,” he insists.

According to him, the €275 million announced by Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retailleau to help universities cover energy costs is not enough. “Of course it will help them, but it would have been enough if they had been in a healthy financial situation,” explains Etienne Matignon.

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Working in coworking spaces

In view of this situation, the students have few options. “The only solution is to put on sweaters and spend time in the common areas or with others at home”says Claire Anne. However, students avoid staying with their classmates for too long. “After that our heating costs explode. We can’t afford to turn the heating up to 21 degrees at home,” says the 21-year-old young woman.

University libraries are one solution, but some of the buildings are large and dilapidated. The student and her classmates therefore turn to cafés and co-working spaces. “Coworking spaces are the right thing to do at the moment. We exchange addresses of free spaces,” says Claire-Anne.

For the President of Unef, Imane Ouelhadj, “It’s not up to the students and staff to fix the university’s underinvestment”. She calls for substantial funds in order to be able to renovate quickly, “even if it’s System D at the moment”. As well as raising the question of a more sustainable renovation of businesses.

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