Amber, a first-year psychology student, was looking forward to studying in Brighton because the seaside town is renowned for its social life. But by the time she had accepted her place, there were no more spaces in halls left, and private rentals were far out of her budget. She is now living in Eastbourne, more than an hour’s journey from her university, and is worried she may have to drop out next year.
“I don’t hang out with any of my course mates because they live so far away, whenever they do stuff I’m not involved. There’s not many of us here so you don’t really go out much, it’s a bit dull being so far out. I wanted a full immersion – everyone says first year is the fun year where you go out. but I can’t do it because if I go out in Brighton I have to wait for the 5am train home,” she said.
As a result, she has not made friends to hunt for a flatshare next year, and she fears there will be nothing left by the time she is in a position to look. “Everyone is going crazy because of the cost of living, so everyone’s trying to find cheaper housing. Everything’s being grabbed up now.”
She is considering taking a break between her second and third year to ease her anxiety, which is keeping her awake at night, and to save up more money and search for accommodation earlier. She said if she had known her university experience would be like this, “I probably wouldn’t have gone to Brighton”.
Amber’s feelings are echoed by Korush Casillas, a second-year politics student at King’s College London, who says he would not have chosen to study there had he anticipated his experience.
He found friends to search with but the group disbanded when they were unable to secure a flatshare in London, where professionals outbid them on flats. Two reluctantly moved back in with their families, and Casillas took a room with people much older than him, over an hour’s journey from his lectures. “It’s a very awkward social experience, and it’s isolating. It’s just making living in the city quite unenjoyable.”
At the sharp end of the student housing crisis are those studying in Glasgow, where recent tenancy changes have drastically restricted the number of private rentals. About 70 students were thought to have still been homeless weeks after term began, and were horrified when the university sent a letter asking that they avoid registering for their course, or even arriving in the city.
Krishen Chadwick Patel, a second-year business management student, was one of these students and set up the Unhoused Students Action Group to pressure the university into addressing the situation. He was couch-surfing with friends until the university agreed to put the students up in a hotel.
“It was really, really, really hard to get a flat. I know a lot of people still don’t have a flat but at the start of the year we were pretty set on the fact we weren’t going to do any uni work and would focus on this till the university did something,” he said.
Through his campaigning work, he was approached by a landlord with an offer of a flatshare. He is struggling to afford the £650 monthly rent but considers himself lucky compared with those who had to accept accommodation in neighbouring towns, such as Paisley.
This is not the end of the struggle – he predicts next year “will be mayhem”. “It was chaos this year, it’s going to be even worse next year. I love the city, I love the people I’ve met, I’ve had the best time but if I’d known I would be homeless at the start of second year before I applied to Ucas, there’s not a chance I would have come here, not a chance.”