OWhen 18-year-old Jessie Smith got the best grades she needed last month to study at the University of Manchester, she was thrilled. Little did she know then that all the student halls of residence at the university would be full and that she would be forced to accept accommodation in Liverpool.
Sarah Smith, Jessie’s mum, who works as a childminder in Sheffield, said she felt “frightened and disgusted” that her daughter lived so far from college. Manchester have offered £100 a week to cover travel costs, but she feels this ‘misses the point’. She doesn’t want her daughter to be 40 minutes away by train from the city she signed up for.
“There are all these fantastic activities in freshman week. I don’t want her to worry about how to get home afterwards,” she said. “University is about getting to know people and how can she do that if she’s not even in Manchester?”
Smith is not alone. A week ago Manchester confirmed there were still more than 350 freshmen waiting for a place in halls across the city. Last week, after offering £2,500 to anyone within commuting distance who would switch to live at home, a university spokesman said there were now 75 first-year students still waiting for a place to live.
He added that they were ‘prioritizing more support’ for students such as Jessie living in Liverpool, and linking them to a venue in Manchester. The university is rushing to complete renovations to alternative housing, and says it’s “highly likely” that students will be able to move into the city in a few months.
Down the street, Manchester Metropolitan University, whose halls are also oversubscribed, has offered £100 a week to first years willing to accept accommodation in Liverpool or Huddersfield.
But although the city is popular among students, the University of Manchester is quick to point out that this is not just a local problem. The university told students and parents there had been “unprecedented demand for university accommodation across the UK this year”.
Universities have long expected the demographic rise in 18-year-olds that is underway, but Manchester stresses they were unprepared for the pandemic and three years in which many more students have achieved Level A High. notes they ask for. The pressure of last year’s record results has caused many students to postpone their places to this year.
New students from cities such as Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh report similar anxious struggles to find accommodation.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, said students who find last-minute places through cleaning often miss the boat on university-owned accommodation – but now the problem extends to those who accept places months before. “When I talk to sixth graders, I always tell them to think about your accommodation as much as your class because that’s where you meet people and make friends,” he said. .
He pointed out that commuter students “have a worse experience,” according to research, and are more likely to drop out. “You have to be a pretty resilient student with a strong social network to deal with being housed in a different city,” he said.
East Lothian archaeological glass expert Dr Helen Spencer has appealed on Twitter for a spare room for her 17-year-old daughter Jess, who starts at Strathclyde University in Glasgow next week, after learned that she was “near the bottom of a waiting list of over 200” for theaters.
“It’s been a tough few weeks, with a lot of tears,” she said. “After three stressful years of working so hard to get the grades she needed, and waiting for a fresh start, she is devastated.”
Spencer tried to help her daughter find a roommate or private student apartment, but with huge competition for a dwindling number of rentals in town, they were out of luck. Strathclyde Freshmen Week has already started and this weekend Jess will be moving into a spare room donated for a few weeks by a ‘friend of a friend’. She does not know where she will live after this.
“She’s worried about moving to someone else’s house and not having other students around, not being able to have the freshman experience of meeting new friends,” he said. Spencer added.
A Strathclyde spokesperson confirmed that all university rooms were now full and students should consider private options.
She said: “We appreciate the frustration that is being created due to the exceptional demand for accommodation this year and the lack of university and private accommodation available across the UK, combined with high demand in the private rental sector in Glasgow. .”
The University of Glasgow told new students in August that they would not be guaranteed accommodation this year and those who lived within commuting distance were automatically denied accommodation. The university said this was due to an increase in demand for places coupled with a “significant contraction” in Glasgow’s private rental market.
Eamon Mcguill, a father from Oldham, said his daughter and two friends had nowhere to live for her first year studying philosophy in Glasgow after the private flat they thought they had failed obtained. The three first-year students now plan to sleep on a family member’s floor in Edinburgh for a few weeks and drive to university while continuing to research. “Of course it’s worse for her, but as a parent you really worry,” he said. “I have no assurance that she is safe, that she has her own space to go.”
The annual scrum to secure student rentals isn’t new, but activists and universities say the situation is getting worse as landlords pull out of the student market and move into running Airbnbs and rentals more lucrative holidays.
When sociology student Hannah McGill got her first private student flat in Edinburgh in 2019, it was after winning a race. “There was so much competition – people had friends waiting outside the office so they could text them from inside and beat everyone up,” she said.
She and her friends intended to stay for their master’s degrees in the next term. But earlier this year their landlord suddenly raised the rent by more than £100 each, forcing them to give up their tenancy.
Passing the building a few months later, McGill noticed a key box next to what had once been its front door. Their student residence was now an Airbnb vacation rental.
They had become the victims of what activists call a “silent eviction”, in which landlords evict tenants with unsustainable rent increases so they can convert their properties into vacation rentals.
Last month, the University of St Andrews blamed a rental shortage on an increase in Airbnbs and advised prospective students to commute from Dundee, about an hour away. Elle Glenny, spokeswoman for Scottish tenants’ union Living Rent, said the shortage was “the result of a housing market which prioritizes the benefit of landlords over the need of tenants for accommodation”.
“Landlords are raising rents well beyond affordable levels, forcing renters out of their homes and communities, only to convert potential homes into more profitable vacation rentals,” Glenny added.
At the University of the West of England in Bristol, more than 500 first-year students have been put on a waiting list for university rooms after a “high volume of applications”. The students were offered rooms in Newport, across the border in Wales, with travel costs included.
Bristol is another prime location for Airbnbs, with hundreds across the city. Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of UWE and chairman of Universities UK, said Bristol is a “popular and vibrant city” with a severe shortage of rental accommodation. He said students were suffering from rising rent prices and the “harsh practice of landlords demanding half or a full year’s rent up front”.
The university is building 900 new apartments ready for next year, with more to follow. But West said: ‘Bristol City Council has limited where planning permission would be granted for student accommodation, which puts pressure on new developments.’
Ben Giles, managing director of Balloon Letting Company in Bristol, said they had been receiving hundreds of calls each week from “desperate” students since the start of August.
“When we set up a student residence, the phone immediately rings and doesn’t stop for about six hours,” he said. “We’re even putting students in properties in Bath.”
Typically, the student rental market calms down at the end of September, with everyone focusing on getting into college and settling in. But this year is different. Giles said: “I expect students will still be looking for property in Bristol for the rest of the year.”