Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Student housing costs up sharply, NUS survey suggests

By Anna Adams
BBC News

Oxford scene
Oxford University was among those that responded to the housing survey

The average cost of university accommodation has risen by 22% in the past three years, according to the National Union of Students (NUS).

The survey of 132 university and private sector landlords found the average weekly room cost had risen from £81.18 in 2006-07 to £98.99 in 2009-10.

The NUS blamed the private sector for pushing up prices of accommodation.

But property developer Unite Group said the private sector had invested more than £5bn in new student flats.

It said without that there would be a chronic shortage of accommodation.

The survey of 85 institutions and 47 private sector landlords was carried out between July and September 2009.

More en-suites

Cardiff University, Oxford University, Nottingham University, Opal Student Accommodation and Sanctuary Management Services were among the organisations that responded to the researchers' requests.

Graph showing the rising cost of accommodation

The researchers examined 191,432 bedspaces from 2008-2009 data and 186,166 from the 2009-10 data.

They said that this accounted for approximately 43% and 41% of the estimated total student bedspaces in the UK for each respective year.

The figures from the Accommodation Cost report, released to the BBC, also suggest that more students than ever before now have en-suite facilities.

Three years ago 43% of rooms had an en-suite whereas now, 47.8% of those surveyed have this on offer.

In the past few years, students have swapped basic halls of residence for en-suites, broadband, 24-hour security and even a gym.

But critics say students often do not have a choice and some might end up paying for things that they don't necessarily need.

Geoff Hotchkiss: "You're not expecting a five star hotel when you go to university"

There are huge regional differences in costs, according to the NUS. Students pay the most in London where the average room costs £151 a week. In Northern Ireland, which is one of the cheapest places to live, it is just £68 a week.

Geoff Hotchkiss, a student at the University of the West of England in Bristol, found his accommodation through the university but it is owned by Unite Group - the biggest private provider of student accommodation in the UK.

He pays £104 a week but he says the price does not reflect the quality of the accommodation.

He said: "I thought it would be better than this.

"You don't expect that it to be a five-star hotel but you do expect basic things like the lift to be working, electricity and the toilet to flush."

But he said there were too many people who were not getting the basic services they thought would be included for the amount they were paying.

Unite Group has agreed to compensate the students in Mr Hotchkiss's block and said the accommodation was not up to the standards of the company's other properties.

City centre locations

Unite Group chief executive Mark Allan said the prices of university rooms had risen but students were now getting much better quality accommodation.

He said: "Compared to old housing stock built in the 1960s and 1970s, it is more expensive but that reflects the fact that it is has been built in the past five years so it's more modern.

"Our properties tend to be located in city centres which is where students tell us they do want to be living. The comparisons in many cases are not like-for-like."

He added: "You have to bear in mind that the student population has almost doubled in the last decade. The private sector has injected something like £5bn into building accommodation and that translates to about 130,000 rooms.

"If those rooms hadn't been built, the shortage of accommodation today would be chronic."

We think it's really important that all students have a choice to suit their budgets
Wes Streeting

The NUS, which carried out the report with the student housing charity Unipol Student Homes, said costs were now completely out of kilter with what students could afford.

NUS president Wes Streeting said: "I think universities need to look very clearly at the cost of their rents and look at capping rents to make sure they remain affordable to all students.

"We also need to ensure that the private market which is inflating rents doesn't continue to dominate and that there is real competition by universities and housing associations."

He said: "We think it's really important that all students have a choice to suit their budgets and, clearly in some cases, there is such a prevalence of en-suites that some of the old-style accommodation is not available."

Unless the industry is better regulated, critics like the NUS say students will not be able to afford to live away from home for too much longer.

We asked you for your experience of student housing. Here is a selection of your comments:

I am now in the third year of study at Southampton University. I spent my first year in University-provided halls (I chose en-suite at approx £100 per week) but there was such a wide range of rooms available from approx £70 that I never encountered anyone with a problem. The real issue is the rents that private student landlords are able to charge because the majority of landlords will not let to us. I currently pay £75 a week, excluding all bills, for a room in a small 2-bed flat. It is poorly decorated, was filthy when we moved in, and is not double-glazed. Also, our landlord will not answer their phone. Interestingly the flat is being advertised for £81 per week next year. This increase is typical in the private market.
Laura, Southampton

I went to a University in the Midlands in 1998, where the cost of weekly rent was £37.50. We had one bathroom between six. Now in 2010, my eldest niece is at a University where she is paying £98 a week for her rent. How can such an increase be attributed to the introduction of more en-suite facilities? My niece grew up in a family of five sharing two bathrooms, so why the sudden need for individual WC facilities? Or can it be the most attractive reason for the inflation that has occurred in student accommodation costs?
Chantal, Swansea, Wales

I'm a student at the University of Exeter and I live in en-suite, catered halls of residence. For this I pay £171.50 per week. The price of this type of accommodation at the university has risen year on year and is set to do so again for the next academic year. Not only do I find this expensive, especially on a typical student budget, but it is also a very large amount of money when taking into consideration the circumstances of my particular hall of residence. I essentially live on a building site and have to deal with all the disruptions that come with this as the university expands, building what will eventually be overpriced student halls. However, I am still required to pay the same price as similar, unaffected halls at the university despite the great inconvenience caused. Student accommodation has become much too expensive, and indeed, students may find it increasingly difficult to move away from home to study if prices continue to rise.
Another Exile, Exeter

I am a student at the University of Hull and am currently a 3rd Year Student. For the last two years during Fresher's Week I have helped students move in and was amazed to find that the University had fitted in camp beds to some of the bigger rooms to try and fit everybody in. It is amazing that the University doesn't base their applications on the accommodation space they have. It is a clear sign that the first motivation for the Universities is money and not care and well being of new students.
Will, Bishop's Stortford

My son is at Keele, He is in Halls and pays approx £90 per week. This is for a 14 x 8 room with a sink, bed and wardrobe. He does have internet access but this is severely limited in usage capacity. £360 A MONTH that is in a 60s built block with communal facilities shared with 30 others. The kitchen has a table for 4 so no communal room to sit and eat socially. The decor is institutional and shabby. On top of that the govt want to charge fees etc. I have seen better accommodation in prisons and young offenders secure accommodation. We are letting those we are hoping will lead this country forward and steer us to a brighter future live in shabby conditions.
Redboysdad, Clevedon, Somerset

I am a student in Bath, and thankfully living in the private sector, which is far cheaper than university accommodation (about £18 a week). However, after paying rent and bills, I have just £8 to live on for the week, for food, clothes, books, travel, etc. The poverty line for a single adult is £115 per week after rent, and I live on just 6% of that figure. People don't seem to understand just how poor the student loan makes you.
Jenna, Bath

Accommodation in St Andrews is scarce, to the point that private landlords can charge outrageously high rents (£500 a month each, and sometimes higher) for central flats that could hardly be called '5-star'. University-owned is no better, as it is a lottery for those who apply for who will get a room, and some still cost around £470 a month (self-catering). Obviously in such a small town demand far exceeds supply, but there should be a limit.
Sophie, St Andrews, Scotland

I'm at the University of Surrey in Guildford, which has the 'wonderful' quality of getting on for London rent prices, but students there don't receive the London loan. Outside of London, it is statistically the most expensive town for students. I live quite literally on the edge of town (there's open countryside across the street), and I'm still paying over £100 a month. Anyone living anywhere near the Uni itself tends to pay over £400 a month in rent alone, and these houses, if anything, tend to be far below average in quality. The issue is for students is not that rent is higher in some places than others. The issue is that the loan is tailored to the national average - whilst this is fantastic if you're studying at Keele, Staffordshire or Teeside, but if you're at Exeter, Surrey or Cambridge, it's a very different story. The loan needs to be tailored to the city.
Will, Guildford, Surrey

My daughter is at Oxford University, and pays £18.01 per day (=£126.07 per week) for a basic room (not en suite) in a 1970s concrete official university residence block. That is a fairly standard price.
Kevin, Oldham

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