Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Battle to End Close Quarter Struggles

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Battle to End Close Quarter Struggles

Article excerpt

With the recruitment cap lifting, student housing shortages are a hot issue, Matthew Field writes

Student accommodation has become a burning issue for universities across the UK as demand for higher education increases. With the end of the cap on undergraduate numbers in England taking effect in the 2015-16 academic year, a number of institutions are facing the prospect of a squeeze on available rooms.

Several universities have already experienced difficulties arising from sudden increases in student numbers this year, when an extra 30,000 places were made available in England alone.

In September 2014, dozens of first years at the University of Bristol - whose 2014 intake of UK and European Union students was 38 per cent higher than in 2011 - were forced to share rooms in halls of residence, in bunk beds.

Tom Phipps, the student living officer at the University of Bristol Students' Union, said that the vast majority of the students now had their own room, but at the time it was "a severe worry to the students concerned; for many, this was their first time living away from home".

"This problem of over-recruitment was not isolated to Bristol, but was found across the higher education sector," he added.

Mr Phipps said that although Bristol was developing a plan of action to deal with future accommodation issues, the students' union was increasingly worried about possible future expansion.

"More are being forced into private halls of residence, which have far higher rents," he said.

"The private rented sector in Bristol is reaching saturation, and many houses are rented to students in such a poor condition that non-student tenants would refuse to live in them."

Similar examples this year include the University of Winchester, where more than 100 students were left without places in city accommodation. Some were obliged to find places in Southampton, and others were put up in hotels in nearby towns.

Deputy vice-chancellor Neil Marriott attributed the problem to a "larger than expected" number of students holding insurance offers and to the institution's commitment to offer accommodation to all first years. However, he said, a number of students who held offers and had reserved beds failed to enrol and the "situation was resolved within two weeks of the start of the academic year".

Slow-building pressures

Although their institution was not subject to the changes in number controls in England, students at Aberystwyth University were also affected this year when new accommodation blocks were not completed on time.

Some undergraduates were denied their chosen accommodation, and many of those who had expected to move in by September 2014 began relocating to the new residences only in January. Aberystwyth said in a statement to students that the university had "not compromised on the quality [of accommodation] in order to ensure the quickest delivery date".

The housing difficulties experienced by universities and students throughout the UK could well be exacerbated next year, and particularly in England with the lifting of the undergraduate cap. The issue is one that has an important bearing on student welfare and levels of student satisfaction.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were more than 700,000 full-time first-year enrolments in the UK in 2013-14, a rise of 7 per cent on 2012-13. The Higher Education Policy Institute has predicted that there could be as many as 60,000 additional entrants each year in the wake of the abolition of student number controls. …

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