UK university students struggle with surging accommodation costs

Unipol says students are taking desperate measures such as illegally doubling up in rooms as rents rise by almost 15 per cent

A group of students walking along University Gardens in the West End of Glasgow. Student maintenance loans are being swallowed up by rental costs.
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A new report has revealed that students in the UK have seen the cost of their accommodation rise by 14.6 per cent over the past two years.

Rents in 10 key regional university cities across the UK rose by nearly £1,000 to £7,475 ($9,035) for this academic year, compared with 2021/22, based on analysis by student housing charity Unipol and the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi).

Within the survey, 45 per cent of student rooms were provided by universities, while 55 per cent were in the private sector.

University room rents rose by 10 per cent, across the two-year period, and private sector room rents increased by 19 per cent.

The cities covered in the report were Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Sheffield. London and Edinburgh were deliberately left out, because the expensive rents in those cities would unbalance the overall results.

Bristol registered the UK's highest average annual rent at £9,200 ($11,121) per year, with Exeter at £8,559 ($10,345) and Glasgow at £7,548 ($9,123).

Meanwhile, the report showed that Glasgow had the sharpest jump in rental costs at 20.4 per cent over the past two years, followed by 16.1 per cent in Exeter and 15.5 per cent in Nottingham.

Swallowing up maintenance loans

In the last two years, while the average student rent has increased by 14.6 per cent, maintenance loans have risen by just 5.2 per cent.

Unipol said that students are battling rising costs by taking desperate measures such as illegally doubling up in rooms, taking on increasing amounts of paid work and even avoiding university altogether.

Basically, the report claimed that students who cannot rely on income from their family or have no part-time work "will have no money to live off, once they have paid their rent".

Student housing crisis

Victoria Tolmie-Loverseed, Unipol's assistant chief executive, said "decades of progress in widening participation in higher education" could be undermined if the student housing "crisis" is not tackled.

She warned of the risks of excluding students from poorer backgrounds and leaving middle-income students in the position of being forced to take on unsustainable debts.

Hepi director Nick Hillman said the report brings into stark view the need for government action, because "official levels of maintenance support simply do not cover anything like most students' actual living costs".

"In the short term, maintenance support should be increased at least in line with inflation," he added.

"In the medium term, ministers should rebase maintenance support using the evidence they've gathered as part of the Student Income and Expenditure Survey, which is due to be published soon.

"For the longer term, we need measures to encourage the supply of new student housing, which is currently restricted by factors such as higher interest rates and confusion over new regulation."

'One meal on the weekend'

A representative for the Department for Education said the student finance system "ensures that the highest levels of support are targeted at students from the lowest-income families".

"However, if students are worried about their circumstances, we urge them to speak to their university.

"Many universities are doing a brilliant job to support students who are struggling financially through a variety of programmes.

"To support universities to help their students we are making £276 million ($333,641 million) available this academic year, which institutions can use to top up their own hardship schemes. This is on top of increases to student loans and grants," the spokesperson added.

Students like Julia Żelazo would welcome such help, or indeed, any help.

A first-year student at the University of Manchester, she has £83 ($100) a month left after covering rent. She receives no money from her family and is still looking for a part-time job.

"I can't lie, I usually have just one meal on the weekend," she told the BBC, "and whenever we hear there's an opportunity to get free food or free stuff, we run."

Updated: October 26, 2023, 11:51 AM