Students forced to share single rooms as university cashes in on pre-Brexit EU influx

Exclusive: University of Warwick student union says situation ‘demonstrates the dangers of a marketised education system whereby student welfare is traded off against money in the bank’

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The Independent Online

Scores of students at one of the world’s top universities are being forced to share single bedrooms or stay in hotels due to a chronic accommodation shortage sparked by a rush of EU students enrolling ahead of Brexit.

The University of Warwick is famous for its MBA courses teaching the world’s brightest applicants how to run a business. However, "university failures and mismanagement" have resulted in around 120 new undergraduates being made to share bedrooms with strangers. At least another 150 postgraduate students are being put up in hotels this term after they were told there was no longer enough room to accommodate them on campus, in a move student union leaders have said prioritises money above student welfare. Students sharing bedrooms are told they can have their own space if and when others begin to drop out.

One student beginning his Masters degree even said he had been told to “sleep in a classroom” as a result of the crisis, a claim the university later denied. Ben Harris said he was offered “room to sleep in a classroom until the end of September”, and for a few weeks afterwards “the best they could do is arrange cut rates at a hotel”.

He added that he had had “no luck” looking for alternatives so far. “If I continue to struggle, however, I will certainly be utilising offers of study elsewhere.”

Speaking to The Independent, a university spokesperson cited Brexit as one of the main causes for the crisis, since unexpected numbers of European students have hurried to accept places before Britain leaves the EU.

Peter Dunn, director of press and policy at Warwick, said Brexit had introduced “a great degree of uncertainty to student recruitment”. “We expected the number of non-British EU students to fall after the referendum,” he said, “but what actually happened was the number of acceptances increased.”

Unprecedented numbers of students across the board have accepted places at the last minute or through clearing in order to escape a potential hike in fees next year. 

There has also been a substantial rise in the number of postgraduate students from “across the world” taking up places at Warwick, Mr Dunn added, leading to severe over-recruitment that has reduced the number of available rooms even further.

"We try to make the number of students match the number of rooms, but it is impossible to tell exactly how many will accept – and this year the university was more popular than ever.

Dozens of freshers have taken to a University of Warwick Facebook group to complain of unexpected accommodation struggles. 

Sarah McHugh, a first-year undergraduate student from Preston, said she had been placed in a shared single room in the Westwood student halls for lack of alternative options. “If I am to be completely honest, I’m really not happy about having to share a room,” she said. “I will have no privacy and the room is only a single so it will be really claustrophobic. I’m nervous to start now.”

Another student, Kieran O’Shea from London, said: “I'm not exactly keen, being someone who likes to have their own private space, also the fact of whether or not I'll like this person and what they'll be like. It'll be a bit weird having to share my entire lifestyle with a complete stranger ... it has made me have some extra concerns consequently dampening excitement about starting university.”

In a statement on its website, Warwick student union said it was aware that many incoming students were affected by “a severe lack of accommodation due to over-recruitment by the university”.

The student union’s postgraduate officer, Nat Panda, said it was the fourth year in succession that postgraduate students had been left without rooms due to “mismanagement by the University”. 

“Every year, we are given assurances that it won’t happen again – and then, 12 months down the line, the situation invariably worsens,” he added.

“There are students who applied for their courses in the spring – and accommodation as early as May – who are now hearing that they are not being offered any permanent accommodation just a week before they are due to arrive. 

Not only is this situation utterly unacceptable, it is avoidable – demonstrating once again the negative effects of systemic failures within the university

Warwick student union postgraduate officer, Nat Panda

“Students in this position include those who have already spent thousands of pounds on visas, travel costs and even course fees, taken out expensive commercial loans, have given up their jobs, have potentially uprooted their families, or have rejected offers at other universities (including those who were able to provide accommodation). 

"Not only is this situation utterly unacceptable, it is avoidable – demonstrating once again the negative effects of systemic failures within the University and the dangers of a marketised education system whereby student welfare is traded off against money in the bank." 

Research compiled by property agent JLL estimates that a shortage of student accommodation across the country has left three students competing for every available bed this year.

Currently, EU-member students are entitled to study in the UK for the same price as UK citizens, but could be subject to a hike in fees once the country leaves the EU, resulting in a last minute rush for places.

A University of Warwick spokesperson said: “UK postgraduate student recruitment has always contained a significant degree of uncertainty, but this year the university has seen a significantly higher number of people meeting and accepting of offers to study or research at postgraduate level.

“We currently have 154 postgraduate students in hotels. Of those 154 we can already offer 60 rooms, leaving 94 students who will all be found accommodation, either on campus or through the private sector.

“There were 120 undergraduate students doubled up in large single rooms, which is fewer than in previous years. that figure has already dropped from 60 sharing rooms to 50.

“The University of Warwick has pledged £90m towards building more accommodation for students on campus, including 267 more rooms for next year."

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