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Housing chaos for new students

Hundreds of new students have been unable to find university accommodation because of the rush to beat the introduction of tuition fees next year.

The Government's decision to bring in a pounds 1,000 fee in September 1998, in tandem with the halving of the maintenance grant, has resulted in a record-breaking intake at universities around the country.

Last week, as the Education Secretary David Blunkett confirmed both moves in his speech to the Labour conference, many young people were being forced to spend their first week at university staying overnight on common room floors or in temporary bed and breakfast rooms.

The high number of students enrolling this year and next is also destined to increase maintenance bills. After 1999 these costs will no longer be able to rely on any standard government maintenance grant.

At Lancaster University the authorities were faced with 200 homeless first-years at the beginning of term.

Other universities with severe problems are:

Leicester, which initially had 70 students staying in hotels, 52 in student nurse housing and 160 sleeping in staff quarters or guest rooms; Oxford Brookes, with more than 100 still in B&B accommodation; and Exeter, where students are sleeping in common rooms.

More than 20,000 students went through the university clearing system this summer. Only a few opted to defer their studies until next year, when they would face tuition charges.

Exeter is one of a small group of universities that usually guarantees campus housing for first years, but last week it was heavily criticised for putting 120 new students in temporary housing.

University spokeswoman Nicola Pagett said: "We accepted 250 students through clearing, expecting that approximately 200 people with prior offers would defer. Because of the proposed introduction of tuition fees, only a handful did."

Freshers at Oxford Brookes University are angry. Peter Hill, the deputy president of the students union, said: "Five hundred first years, a fifth of the intake, were refused normal campus accommodation. About 300 found private lodgings; 88 students are doubled up in small rooms in a tower block, with building work going on around; 100 are in bed and breakfast which, with no catering facilities, will be more expensive than hall."