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Students protest lack of housing in Tbilisi as universities return to in-person learning

2 May 2022
Students protesting in front of Tbilisi State University. Photo: Tata Shoshiashvili/OC Media

Tbilisi State University students went back to classrooms for full in-person lectures as of Monday for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that was not welcomed by students from outside the capital who cannot afford rent in Tbilisi.

Almost two dozen students from various regions demonstrated at Tbilisi State University on Monday demanding the reinstatement of a hybrid education system in lieu of in-person classes.

Rent prices in the capital have surged following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as tens of thousands of Russian émigrés moved to the country, leaving students living in the farther regions of the country unable to afford rent.

[Read on OC Media: Evictions surge as rents skyrocket in Yerevan and Tbilisi]

Barbare Sauri, a fourth-year Georgian philology student who joined the demonstration in the courtyard of TSU, told OC Media that a meeting with the university rector and administration did not yield concrete results.

‘Up to 2,400 TSU students have fallen into such a difficult situation. The administration told us that each student’s problem and demand would be approached individually’, she said. ‘But when students call and report their problems, representatives of the administration tell them that they can’t help’.

Protesters said the university was playing down the problem, claiming that only around 200 students were unable to secure accommodation.

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The demonstrators have demanded the university build an additional fully-furnished dormitory that tailors to the needs of students.

TSU already has two dormitories; however, one of them is in a dilapidated state, while the other is at full capacity.

On 27 April, the university issued a statement claiming that restoring in-person education was a necessary decision to ‘improve the quality of education’ in classrooms, 'because no other format — neither fully remote nor hybrid — can provide the required quality of teaching’.

‘Students were given more than 2 months to prepare for the learning process’, the statement read.

Upon meeting with the students, TSU Rector Giorgi Sharvashidze said that he would host two students in his own house. He also suggested an initiative involving the university’s alumni in the process of sheltering current students from other regions.

Nata Asatiani, the university’s spokesperson, criticised the demands of the demonstrating students, accusing them of disrupting TSU’s effort to tackle the issue.

‘The rector is ready to launch a campaign to raise money from alumni and business representatives, and this fund will help students to settle’, she wrote. ‘Students should be involved in this, however, the majority of their resources are mobilised to disrupt in-person classes and not to seek a solution together’, she said.

The students gathered on Monday told OC Media that they would continue to protest, and would announce further plans later.

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