The Glasgow Guardian talks to students with nowhere to live as the start of term looms.
The new academic year is beginning on a similar foot to the last, with the student accommodation shortage in Glasgow showing little sign of improvement. Accommodation problems are being experienced from freshers to incoming postgraduate students with no offer from the University’s halls, to returning students unable to find a flat in Glasgow’s increasingly competitive rental market.
Last year new student numbers outdid the amount of beds in the University of Glasgow halls accommodation, resulting in freshers having to be housed miles away in Paisley through private accommodation provider City Room Rentals. This year, the University of Glasgow has had communication with the University of Stirling regarding the possibility of first-year students who missed out on the West End halls being housed on its campus halls some 30 miles down the M80, as revealed by The Glasgow Guardian.
The University of Glasgow took away its guarantee of accommodation for first years and postgraduate students in March of this year. The change in policy noted this would be applied to students who live within a “commutable distance” from the campus, though it is unclear how this is defined. This “commutable distance” policy does not appear to be in effect, with The Glasgow Guardian having heard reports of international students due to start their studies in Glasgow still without accommodation.
Grace Isaacs from Belgium will be starting at the University of Glasgow to study Msc Food Security. She told The Glasgow Guardian of the additional barriers facing international students to finding accommodation: not being in the country to attend often compulsory in person flat viewings, not knowing anyone to live and search for a flat with, and delays in obtaining a visa casting uncertainty over their applications in the eyes of landlords.
Though she has a family friend who can provide a room in Kirkintilloch, a town 30 minutes from the West End where she can live until she finds something more convenient, Grace said: “It’s affected my summer a lot. I’ve been searching for the best part of two months. I have instant alerts for all property websites, and at different times, depending on how stressed I’ve been, I’ve felt as though I need to be constantly staring at my phone or I’ll miss something. I now frequently get migraines and even dream about finding housing.”
She told The Glasgow Guardian of a friend unable to find a flat who phoned the University only to be advised her best option was to defer her studies. Grace labelled this response “pathetic” and continued: “They have not acknowledged their responsibility in providing their students with accommodation and support. I just think it really is absolutely appalling how they seem to not care at all that this is happening or for the students they have accepted. They’ve made this clear – they don’t care about you.”
Meeting minutes of the University’s court from February of this year record acknowledgment of the possibility that this situation could occur. At that time, the University had a bed capacity of 3,399 and had purchased an additional 203 from private accommodation company Unite Students. Recognising the shortage, the University stated it would purchase another 826 beds for the academic year 2022/23, and raise this number to 1000 for the following four years in a contract of five years including a break clause after three years which the University only, and not the private company, could trigger.
The minutes state: “It was anticipated that demand would continue to exceed supply, and as a result, the University of Glasgow would purchase bed spaces to mitigate the risk of students not joining or withdrawing from the University due to a lack of accommodation.” However, despite the months of foresight this appears to have materialised in many cases.
When asked by The Glasgow Guardian why the University appears to have failed to adequately prepare for the accommodation shortfallings, a spokesperson said: “The main reason for the accommodation shortage is significant changes in the private rental market means there’s less accommodation. The University was aware of this potential issue in February and that is why it took the unprecedented action to secure 25% more beds for students this year, a huge undertaking in less than 12 months.”
The University spokesperson went on to say: “The University continues to work to address the issue and is already planning ahead – seeking to further increase our University-managed accommodation and continuing to engage with Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) providers in the city as well as Glasgow City Council to address the systemic issues related to student accommodation across Glasgow.”
With many returning students unable to secure private accommodation the issue of student homelessness is likely to worsen with many students having no option but sofa surf as they search for a place to live. Fay Lightbody, a second year Law student from Northern Ireland looks set to be forced to take this option as the start of term draws closer, and admits the situation has led her to consider dropping out. “I’ve been travelling America since June and this has been a constant cloud over my time here. It’s been stressful and over time I’ve lost more hope. I was excited to go into my second year at Glasgow but at the minute it’s hard to even look forward to returning because I don’t know if it is possible,” she told The Glasgow Guardian.
Claire Cowell told The Glasgow Guardian of the situation facing her son, who is due to start his second year of Engineering and is likely to have to commute from Edinburgh since he cannot find a flat. “It’s not ideal but it must be so much worse for people who don’t have that option. I can’t imagine what they’re going to do. Not to mention the poor first years with nowhere to stay. I must admit our experience of Glasgow University’s admin abilities over the last year has been dreadful. I would never recommend anyone consider Glasgow Uni due to their abysmal pastoral care,” Claire commented.
Speaking in the context of both the scarcity of accommodation and rising rent prices, Glasgow University Student Tenant Union commented to The Glasgow Guardian: “This landlord university has no interest in providing safe, affordable housing for its students; it opts instead to maximise profit from whatever it can offer, regardless of its true value or availability. Rent is a barrier to fair education, higher now than ever before. For as long as UofG and landlords like it are allowed to game a rigged system, university management and Glasgow’s elite will continue to profit from neglect – students, meanwhile, will face annual rent hikes for unfit homes.”
Local politicians have also told The Glasgow Guardian of their concern for the situation. Paul Sweeney, Labour MSP for Glasgow, says it is an issue he has frequently raised: “The crisis in student accommodation in Glasgow is gross negligence on the part of universities and the city council. For years they have failed to see the huge economic and social potential of taking student accommodation in house, and instead have outsourced the developments to private organisations, often owned by foreign investors & sovereign wealth funds, who suck wealth out of the city, ripping students off in the process.”
On potential solutions, the Labour MSP told The Glasgow Guardian: “Glasgow should have a major publicly owned development company responsible for constructing and managing student accommodation. That approach would allow the profits to be reinvested back into the services and to the city more generally. Let’s be clear, these foreign owned companies don’t build student accommodation out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it because it is hugely profitable, and the city’s authorities are missing in action.”
Meanwhile, Kaukab Stewart of the SNP, who is the MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, told The Glasgow Guardian: “I have every sympathy with students who should be excited at the prospect of coming to Glasgow to study, but who are concerned about being able to find a place to live. We are fortunate to have 8 higher and further learning institutions in Glasgow Kelvin, including the University of Glasgow, but despite an increase in University and private student accommodation options, the increased numbers of students is putting unprecedented pressure on the availability of accommodation in the private rented sector.”