Published: 03rd October 2022
UK student accommodation crisis explained. Plus, UK officials, experts and students weigh in
"Around the world, we are seeing reports of high demand for student housing across popular global destinations," say officials
The UK student accommodation crisis is hitting Indian students hard.
It all started when the UK hit its 6,00,000 international student target 10 years ahead of time. Now, sample this: On the day of Clearing (UK Universities use Clearing to fill remaining seats), on August 18 this year, universities accepted over 4,00,000 students.
“I was forced to change four accommodations in the span of six months. Most of us who come here with dreams and hopes end up feeling very distressed and depressed because of the accommodation issue and it becomes very stressful for us when we have to manage our studies and classes with this crisis,” shares Pranav Gupta Revuri who is an MPhil student at the University of Salford in Manchester.
This is just the plight of one of the many students.
Saurabh Arora, Founder and CEO, University Living, a platform that offers accommodation to students, shares that as per their data, approximately 1,20,000 Indian students have opted for the UK this year and out of this, at least 25% of students are struggling to find suitable accommodation. About 7,500 to 10,000 Indian students are struggling to find accommodation in the UK and this number is only rising.
How did it all begin?
Amit Singh, Founder, UniAcco explains how the crisis actually began. He dials back to 2007, when housing prices soared in Britain until the US firm Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, triggering a global financial crash. “Essentially, it became more difficult to get a mortgage, particularly as the following recession hit people’s jobs and savings. All this pushed more people into private renting,” he goes on to explain. The onset of the pandemic strained the already difficult economic situation.
“If we were to summarise, a combination of global financial crises, including the skyrocketing energy prices and rental prices, along with internal policy changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic have collectively caused the housing crisis which is affecting international students today,” says Singh.
University Living has witnessed a 2.5x increase in April and a 3x rise in May 2022 compared to the same time last year. And from July till date in September, they saw about 5x rise in accommodation enquiries. "Given the pandemic, students are now at a point where they are choosing to pursue their study abroad dreams after being restricted for nearly two years," says Saurabh Arora.
And as per UniAcco, the housing crisis for students is more acute in popular study destinations such as London, Edinburg, Glasgow, and Manchester. But even within these cities, the situation may vary starkly. "For instance, the difference in average incomes of Southall (often called Little India) and Cheswick makes their housing markets behave differently despite both being boroughs within London," says Amit Singh.
What are the consequence?
"Students are actually reconsidering joining their universities as they are unable to find accommodation. Some are turning to either sofa surfing with friends or relatives, living at a hotel or far from the university which is either discomforting for them or is costing them a fortune to manage all the expenses," says Arora.
In fact, incoming undergraduates at some universities in cities like Glasgow, Manchester, London and some cities in Scotland, have missed out on university accommodation and owing to the influx of students, many late applicants have been asked to retry for next year’s intake, he says.
"Some have even been offered accommodation in nearby cities not less than an hour or so away from their respective universities," informs Arora, who, at University Living has a global student community of 160k+ students.
Tirunahari Manish, Heriot-Watt University, Scotland shares that, “I lived on the university campus from August 2020 to 21 and when it was my time to step out I couldn't find a place to stay. It was stressful and difficult," he said.
He also mentioned that the university provided the students with a week's extension to find accommodation, but it was a very expensive option. “I have been trying to assist new students in finding accommodations and I even let one student stay with me temporarily until he found a place,” he added
Varsha Reddy, MSc, Econ International Relations at Cardiff University, Wales says, “This accommodation crisis did affect me, but not too much, I had to move to a private accommodation in London from the campus accommodation,” she said.
“There have been a number of immigrants this year, which is why the rents for places have also increased. Even if accommodations are available, they are given to the person who pays the most money," Reddy says.
She also added that this year the number of students has declined because of accommodation issues and inflation. The universities have also cut down scholarships and the prices of daily essentials have increased.
The official word
Jamie Arrowsmith, Acting Director, Universities UK International (UUKi) and Andrew Bird, Vice-Chair, The British Universities' International Liaison Association (BUILA) shared that the universities in the UK are gearing up to welcome a record number of international students. And as a part of this preparation, the varsities are working closely with students as well as the housing sector to ensure that students find appropriate housing.
"Around the world, we are seeing reports of high demand for student housing across popular global destinations. While there have been some reports of localised issues with students securing accommodation in the UK, we do not believe that this is widespread. Universities are doing everything possible to ensure that students are being supported wherever there might be concerns," they say.
Tips for the journey ahead
"It is always recommended that students organise housing before travelling to the UK and to ensure, where possible, that they apply by the university accommodation deadline. If any students planning to travel to the UK are having difficulty in securing appropriate housing for this year, they should contact their university accommodation team as soon as possible for support," share Jamie Arrowsmith and Andrew Bird.
Here's what Amit Singh, Founder, UniAcco had to share:
1) The first and most important thing would be to start planning early. Certain leases and accommodation contracts are designed to fix amenity costs at a set rate before students even enter the UK, making them immune to external energy crises and hikes in basic living costs
2) Another step that is more important now than ever is to learn as much about the destination city as possible. Certain foreign terminologies and sectors like PBSA (purpose-built student accommodations) are difficult to even come across unless students reach out to people already studying or living in the UK and learn about it from them.
Such niche details can help tremendously when it comes to planning overseas housing because it broadens a student’s options beyond just a standard curated list and makes them aware of the unique housing possibilities abroad
Saurabh Arora, Founder and CEO, University Living says:
1) Plan and be prepared. Be proactive. The right time to book accommodation, or at least initiate the process, is the moment you pay that deposit towards your tuition fee for the university or as soon as you receive your CAS letters.
This gap in demand for accommodation and lack of supply is going to be a lasting one as it will take a while for the PBSA (Purpose built student accommodation) and HMO (house in multiple occupations) sectors to match up to the growing demand year on year.
In the near future, we see the PBSA and HMO markets growing at a rapid pace to keep up with this high demand. With more students slated to come in next year and deferred students from this year, this is a problem that is going to take careful planning and swift execution.
2) Do not panic and keep calm because what we have noticed is that students are so hassled about their accommodation that they are missing out on their fresher's welcome, induction and other important university events which are happening within the first month.