More than a thousand freshers have started the new academic year with nowhere to live, a report by the National Union of Students has revealed. The shortage in campus accommodation has led to hundreds of students being temporarily housed in hotels and bed and breakfasts.
At De Montford University (DMU) in Leicester around 800 students are now living in non-university houses. Some students have found themselves living up to five miles away from the city itself at the Leicester Forest East motorway services. They have to travel for 45 minutes a day to attend freshers’ events and repeating this journey in the dark after a night out. One mother, Maria Fitzpatrick described her daughter’s journey as “spectacularly unsafe, never mind being inconvenient and stressful.” A journey included using the back door of the hotel, passing through a petrol station, down a slip road and over a footbridge simply to get to the bus stop.
A spokesperson for the DMU Students Union said: “It is clear to see that the students are upset, distressed and angry with the situation they have been presented with and the Students’ Union itself is disappointed with the way in which these students have been treated.
“It’s worth noting the incredible resilience of the first years facing these difficult circumstances. These students have had arguably the worst start to their University experience.”
Although the university is accountable for this unfortunate incident all efforts are being made to ensure the unlucky 800 are compensated. The university has negotiated lower rates with the Premier Inn, bringing the price down from £57 a night to £100 a week; this includes a continental breakfast and an evening meal. Compared to the £75-a-week alternative in halls, which will be cleaned daily rather than only weekly as the discounted hotel rooms are, the price is still very steep for students who may not even have their loans through yet. DMU has organised extra freshers’ events in an attempt to include students living in the outskirts of the city. They will also cover costs of the minibus that runs students from the hotels to campus, which is otherwise £3 a day.
The lack of accommodation can be attributed to a 10 per cent rise in applicants to university this year, due to the recession, putting pressure on universities to accept more undergraduates. There has also been a 48% increase of overseas students in the last 10 years.
During a BBC Leicester radio interview, David Alder, Head of DMU Public Relations, reiterated to listeners that this is a “national situation”. At Warwick University 145 freshers are living in a block of flats in Coventry, and 80 new students at Aberdeen University are staying in a Premier Lodge in the city centre.
One student from Brighton, Milo Simms, waited all summer to receive a letter informing him where he would be living. Only a couple of days before leaving home did he find out that the first weeks of his university career would be spent in a hotel room. He said: “The letter never came and when I tried to chase it up on the phone I was just kept on hold.” Predictably the university was inundated with calls from other homeless students trying to find a solution to the same problem. However, unlike most of these students who were warned well in advance, Simms had been kept in the dark, leaving him with very little time to prepare before moving in. Furthermore, most of these students do not know how long the temporary housing will last. Simms added: “It might be two days, it might be all year, so there’s no point unpacking yet, and besides that, there are no drawers to put your clothes in.”
This is not the first time a lack of university-run housing has posed a problem for new students. There are reports of De Montford also seeing accommodation shortages in 2003, along with universities across the country finding themselves in similar situations every year. However some universities take a very different approach. The University of Sussex offers a scheme where students are given the choice of living with a host family until accommodation is available on campus when, for example, people decide to drop out, or where unforeseen vacancies emerge or there has been unfinished construction. Communication between universities and their respective students may not solve the issue but it certainly eases the anxiety they experience in these frustrating times.