No vacancy: uni runs out of rooms

Dozens of new students have missed out on a place in University accommodation this year. Up to 127 freshers who otherwise would have been in halls now have to make their own alternative arrangements for housing. Parents’ and students’ anger has been rising at what some perceive to be a lack of preparation for the high number of new students.

Posts on social networking sites indicated that students are frustrated at having to find their own housing. “I still can’t quite believe that there are two weeks until the start date and we’ve been left in the lurch – looking for accommodation by ourselves!” said one student. “I am a first year [who] has been allocated off-campus accommodation. Liberty Park costs over £4,000 in accommodation fees, which I cannot afford,” said another.

Although in previous years students have had to share rooms or were temporarily placed in alternative housing at the start of the year, the scale of the problem this year is believed to be far worse, with many of those affected likely to not gain a place in halls at all. Leo Boe, the Students’ Union’s Welfare Officer, said the staff at the SU’s Student Advice Centre “have never seen a situation this bad, and they’ve been here up to twenty years”.

The problem arose from a higher-than-expected influx of new students – a situation shared with many other UK universities this year. According to the Students’ Union, there were roughly 600 freshers coming to the University that Warwick Accommodation had not planned for. Some of these were accommodated in halls as normal, others were put in double rooms in Westwood and Rootes, while the rest are still seeking housing.

The University and Students’ Union have been working to support the affected students.

“We still have 11 places left in Paradise House in Coventry and we expect obviously 11 of those students will elect to go there. We are continuing to add new properties in the area to our housing stock and some are being inspected at this moment to ensure they meet our standards before we take them on and offer them to students,” said Peter Dunn, University Press Officer.

All 127 who were believed to be without housing were offered free temporary accommodation in Whitefields during the weeks leading up to the start of term to enable them to meet potential housemates and find private-sector housing. Around 60 students took up this offer, and some have found term-time accommodation in the local area. “If only 60 did take up that offer it suggests that the 127 figure may be higher than reality as there may be a significant number that have already found accommodation but have not yet told us,” said Dunn.

Any students who arrive without somewhere to live will be put up in hotels, subsidised by the University, until they find more permanent accommodation.

However, even those who were able to find University accommodation are facing difficulties. A year’s rent at the two off-campus halls in Coventry – Liberty Park and Paradise House – is as much as £2,000 more than rent in normal halls, and exceeds the amount of students’ maintenance loans. The lowest on-campus rent is £2,220 for 30 weeks in Cryfield; the off-campus halls cost between £4,180 and £4,576 for 44 weeks.

Boe said the Union has been receiving complaints from students and parents who are concerned about this unexpected rise in the cost of university. “The main concern is the cost, especially with the halls off campus. Students and parents have been really really angry that they’ve been paying more than expected. Parents are worrying, kids are discouraged,” he said.

The Boar was shown some of these complaints. One parent said: “My husband and I have budgeted for our son to be able to afford tuition fees and accommodation with a little bit extra, after the loan. My wife’s a teaching assistant and I’m a retired fireman, here I am pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to make sure my son has enough money to go to and survive at university. Now we’ve found out that he’s living in halls costing £1,000 over what we budgeted.”

The Union has been negotiating with the University on the possibility of compensation for affected students, though nothing has been finalised yet. “It’s not evident in their [Warwick Accommodation’s] website or anything they’ve told students and their parents that the situation may be such that they would be put in the halls off-campus, let alone that they would come to campus earlier to get accommodation. Some of those decisions were made late in the day,” said Boe.

“Many students also wanted to come to a campus university, especially for international students. When they’re told they’re moving into the middle of the city, their opinion of the university drops. We would see [compensation] as a gesture of goodwill and an acknowledgement of the situation that students are in – as a token of apology. We’re currently in discussion about that.”

One international student voiced these concerns to the Union: “I’m an international student from Malaysia, I applied to Warwick because it was a secure campus university. As I am not from the UK, I am worried about living in Coventry, a city which I have found out is very dangerous.”

The situation is also set to cost the University a considerable sum of money, with some students being given free rooms in Whitefields for several weeks, and the University subsidising the cost of hotel accommodation for others. “We won’t know full costs till the end – one figure we do know for sure is that we are spending over £25 million this year to build 500 new student bedrooms which will be ready by October 2011 and we have committed a similar sum to build 500 more rooms the year after that. We also have outline planning permission for a further 500 rooms in 2013,” said Dunn.


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