The number of first year students applying for student accommodation places has seen a significant increase this year with hundreds of students being housed in private accommodation. Many first year students have also had to find housing in Selly Oak. This includes 281 students who have been housed in Liberty Court, 163 students in Liberty […]
The number of first year students applying for student accommodation places has seen a significant increase this year with hundreds of students being housed in private accommodation. Many first year students have also had to find housing in Selly Oak.
What the VPHC said:
This includes 281 students who have been housed in Liberty Court, 163 students in Liberty Close and 51 students in Opal 1. Some students were even pointed towards accommodation near Aston University. The University of Birmingham has reported that the number of first years who have had to rent houses in Selly Oak reached 100 based on the number of students who had come forward and attended their house hunting event.
However, the Guild of Students estimates that this is more likely between 150-200 students, basing their numbers on the data collected by the Selly Oak Support group, student mentors and wardens.
The Vice President for Housing & Community (VPHC), Dave Charles, explained that these numbers are only approximates because the letting agents are under a confidentiality agreement not to give out personal information about their tenants, which means that the Guild are unable to meet with these students and it fears that they may not know about all of the services open to them.
While the ‘Freshers’ Guarantee Scheme’, which guarantees ‘all first-year undergraduate students a room in University accommodation or nominated bedspace in third-party accommodation’ does mention the possibility of students being housed with private providers, many students have complained about being offered places outside their price range or too distant from campus.
Rianna Nicholas is a first year student living at Liberty Court, who despite applying for accommodation within the ‘guarantee period’, did not receive any of her six choices.
She said that she had visited the Vale, Tennis Court and Pritchatts Park on the University Open Day and ‘based my decision to come to Birmingham on the accommodation that I saw and was happy with. I didn’t think that I wouldn’t get any of my six preferences as I did everything correctly’. She also told Redbrick of her concerns about living in a busy part of town and how it ‘takes me 40 minutes to walk home along a main road’.
Another student, who chose to remain anonymous, explained to Redbrick that she had had to organise accommodation at the Pavilion, a third-party student residence located about 40 minutes walking distance away from the University. She is now one of approximately fifteen UoB students in the block of 147, living in a studio flat costing £6,800 per annum.
She added that ‘it was my only choice left if my family couldn’t have financially supported me. I would have either had to defer my university place or looked for a private rented house in somewhere like Selly Oak’. She also mentioned how the Pavilion contained ‘no communal areas like Halls – you have to literally knock randomly on doors if you are to meet people’.
Manira Khan, a first year student who was assigned housing in Pritchatts Park said, ‘I felt extremely lucky to be given university accommodation considering I transferred here from Durham University just last week. I was expecting to be staying off-campus given that I came here late but I was given a space in Pritchatts Park, which is so lucky’.
What the University has said:
Students who were placed in third-party accommodation faced not only higher costs but also different payment options, with one first year student telling Redbrick that they had been asked to pay over £5,000 upfront to secure their place after being allocated accommodation in Victoria Halls, with the choice of paying three separate instalments beginning with £1000 on the 1st September, which she also found unreasonable because it was before student loans had come in.
However, the University insisted that upfront fees were not ‘the standard terms’ that are supposed to be offered by third-party providers through the University.
Emergency RA Committee set up
Charles pointed out a number of Guild services that are still available for students outside campus such as Selly Watch, SHAC, student mentors and the Sabbatical Officers, all of which are able to give advice and help to all students.
The Sabbatical Team have also arranged a series of RA-style socials, which are being funded by the University. The first of these is on 21st October, offering any first years who are not represented by an RA the opportunity to meet the Sabbatical team over pizza in Joe’s Bar. This will be followed by a meal and night out to socialise and raise awareness of the services in place for them.
The VPHC has said that these events were planned because of concerns about the welfare of those students living in private accommodation including Opal 1, Pavilion and Selly Oak, who are not represented by an RA committee due to the location of their residence.
The Sabbatical Team also set up an emergency RA committee in the last week before term began with responsibility for those Freshers living in Liberty Close and Metchley Halls.
In the last academic year, 2012-13, the University under-recruited and the majority of students were able to secure accommodation in university-owned halls. Due to this, there were no elected candidates for the FOCSOC committee and so there was not a RA committee ready for the incoming freshers this year.
In comparison to last year, the Government’s removal of the cap on the number of AAB students that Universities were able to accept this year meant that a higher number of students were allocated places at the university through clearing, which resulted in the strain on accommodation services. However, the University has insisted that the increase was not significant compared to the admission numbers of 2011.
The University’s drive for Clearing and Adjustment students meant that around 100 places were assigned to students who chose to come to Birmingham after Results Day, but a university spokesperson explained that this was only done in exceptional circumstances. A resident of Shackleton Hall spoke to Redbrick about being ‘over the moon’ that he got allocated his second accommodation preference despite coming late to the system, through the Adjustment process.
The shortage of accommodation spaces was in part attributed to the unfinished extension of Jarratt Hall, which was originally due for completion over the summer, meaning that there were 150 fewer bed spaces available than expected in university owned halls for the student intake of 2013/14.
This is expected to be completed for Autumn 2014, with a further 700 University accommodation spaces set to be available in another location the following year. It is nonetheless estimated that 15-20% of students will be in private, third party accommodation next year.
@livingatbham I just received an email saying I am outside the guarantee scheme and the alternative accommodation is full. What do i do now?
— Sonia (@sonias95) September 6, 2013
— Emma Lowe (@emlowee) September 3, 2013