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Oversubscribed courses and under-housed cities: Students speak out

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 “So, this is where I’m living currently, I never thought I would be in a hotel for the first few weeks of uni, but here we are,” Amelia tells me as she gives me a FaceTime tour of her current student residence: a Premier Inn Hotel in the heart of Manchester.

The 19 year-old Manchester University explains that this is only a short-term fix until she can fine more permanent accommodation, preferably one with other students. Despite the circumstances and the absence of the ‘normal’ student experience that so many people seek out when attending university, Amelia seems optimistic. 

“I really wanted to get into halls, but they were already so oversubscribed, things got desperate, and I just needed anywhere to live to get me started. The university [was] telling us to look for accommodation in Liverpool so we could commute in, but that would be so pointless, I may as well be at uni in Liverpool!” Amelia tells me.

“So, I’m waiting and have a few possible house shares that I can move into from people I’ve found on Facebook so let’s see,” she says.

Despite the absurdity of the situation, Amelia is not the only student who is having trouble finding affordable university housing. According to reports, Manchester Metropolitan University offered first-year students £100 a week to live in a different city or town, such as Liverpool or Huddersfield. 

What, then, is the cause of this shortage of adequate student housing?  

Some hold the universities accountable for oversubscribing course places  in an effort to raise money after the pandemic. Others attribute the increased competition in the rental market to a significant number of people migrating back to the cities after fleeing them during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 Whatever the reason, it is important to recognise the effect this issue has on students’ mental health. During their first year of university, many students move away from home for the first time. As they are frequently anxious to start a new life, in a place they have typically never been, it is crucial that they have a safe environment to do so. The universities that are allocating spaces have a duty to ensure that this housing situation is avoided.

Piccadilly Circus at night time
A home in London? [Pixabay: Paulstueber]

Ed is a student in London, and has experienced incredible  difficulty finding affordable accommodation in the capital, and has been shocked by the sheer greed of landlords taking advantage of the situation. 

“Honestly, I have never experienced anything like it, trying to find accommodation in London this year that isn’t extortionate has been the most stressful experience ever. I know so many people who still haven’t found anywhere for the year and have had to move back home to their parents’ house.”

“The only reason I found a place was by offering six months rent upfront to outbid other people who are also as desperate as me. I was luckily able to use my savings from working during all summer, but it’s now all gone. The landlords are loving it.” 

Landlords have been criticised for taking advantage of inexperienced renters, especially students, by asking for excessive upfront payments to have a chance at securing the property. It creates an unfair monopoly and puts students and young people in a difficult position, by being coerced into paying unfair prices because it is assumed that they do not know any better.  

It is not just a case of bad luck in Ed and Amelia’s search for accommodation, but in fact a far larger systemic problem. According to data initially collected by Bloomberg, the demand for accommodation in London is astronomically higher than the supply, with 106,000 people looking for rooms on SpareRoom compared to just 15,000 rooms available on the site.  

If you are currently finding it difficult to navigate the housing market as a student, here are some top tips according to industry experts: 

  1. Stay consistent with your house hunting. Stay on top of websites such as Rightmove, Zoopla and Boomin, sign up to email alerts so you can see the latest properties on the market.
  2. Go into your local estate agents and ask to be contacted about any properties that are about to come on to the market and that are student/young people friendly. As soon as a property becomes available, arrange a viewing as soon as possible.  
  3. Don’t look past websites like OpenRent for example that allow you to contact the landlord directly rather than through an agent, this allows for more options.
  4. Set up multiple viewing days where you see as many properties as you can, if you like the look of place, immediately enquire about putting in an offer, this will give you are much higher chance of securing the property.


Featured image by Musaraja92 via Pixabay CC
Students’ names have been changed to ensure anonymity

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