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Vacant accommodation costs UK students a staggering £1bn

Landlords and Universities have accrued a staggering £1bn from empty student properties during the coronavirus pandemic, a survey by campaign group ‘Save the Student’ has found.

The findings reveal that the average student has spent £1,621 on unused accommodation – even when accounting for rent refunds – as lockdowns and online learning have forced many off campuses and back into family homes. 43% have spent less than four months in their university accommodation this year.

Extrapolating this across the whole UK student population, Save the Student calculated £930,270,890 has been wasted on empty rooms. 

In an email to all students last month, Queen Mary Principal Professor Colin Bailey addressed grievances over rent obligations.

“We have been working with our Students’ Union on this issue, and have now written to all our students in University-owned residences on this point. Many of our students are of course in privately-run accommodation. We are working through university umbrella bodies, as well as the Government, to try and influence the behaviour of the larger private providers of accommodation for students.”

“In the meantime, if you are facing financial hardship, please do apply for help via our Financial Assistance Fund.”  

All QM students living in halls have been offered a 30% discount on their rent but costs remain high. London is notoriously expensive for student renters with weekly average prices at £152/pw, the highest in the UK.

Action has been less forthcoming from private sector residences as well as other universities. The survey suggests that only a third of students have been offered a discount, a figure which drops to 6% for those in private accommodation.  

Frustration has grown over the pandemic, and student rent strikes have spread across UK universities, including QM. In Manchester last November, students tore down fences and occupied the Owens Park Tower on the University’s Fallowfield campus before the University placated protesters with a 30% rent discount.

In February, 92 students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) became the first group to completely withhold their outstanding tuition fee instalment in protest at the University’s coronavirus response.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the National Union of Students’ vice-president for higher education, told the Guardian: “Students have been consistently exploited and ignored during this pandemic. We are seen as cash cows, with many stuck paying extortionate rents for properties they either cannot use or cannot afford.” 

The survey highlighted the extent of this dissatisfaction, detailing 21% expect a tuition refund, 80% want one and 94% don’t know how to claim one. One online petition calling for tuition fees to be cut from £9,250 to £3,000 has received more than 500,000 signatures.

To address these concerns, the government recently pledged an additional £50million to support the universities sector in a package totalling £75million, and Northern Ireland’s devolved government has promised all students a direct £500 payment.

The Survey can be examined in full here:

[Image by Dario Martinez-Batlle at]

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