Students check in at four-star hotel

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STUDENTS ARRIVING for their first taste of academic life in Leeds are eschewing the rigours of shared digs and instead have found themselves booked into en-suite rooms in one of the city's plushest four- star hotels.

Thirty undergraduates from the University of Leeds are enjoying satellite television, crisp linen and a choice of full English breakfast or freshly baked croissants at the Merrion Thistle Hotel.

The students have been forced to live in the pounds 100-a-night hotel because contractors have not finished work on their new accommodation. The university has negotiated a cut-price deal with the hotel, which is letting one-third of its rooms to students until further notice.

The undergraduates have taken readily to 24-hour room service and free in-house movies; one student even charged a taxi to the university when late for lectures. There are also the all-important tea and coffee-making facilities and a trouser press so students can steer clear of ironing.

The move is the latest measure to cope with burgeoning student numbers. Previous years have seen universities and colleges around the country turning sports halls into soup kitchens with camp-beds, doubling up single rooms with bunk beds and booking students into empty council houses or hostels.

The hotel bill will be paid by the building company that is still renovating their rooms.

A Leeds University spokeswoman said: "They were told they would be staying in the hotel shortly after arriving at the Springfield Mount annexe of the Charles Morris hall of residence. We are very, very disappointed that the contractors did not fulfil the terms of their contract and we have made our position very clear."

The university decided to put the students into the hotel "rather than having them spread across the city in bed and breakfasts with all the difficulties in communicating with them and bearing in mind some parents may not have looked too kindly on us if we put their sons and daughters in some run-down seedy place".

The move has gone down well with most of the students. Nick Woodrow, 18, from Buckinghamshire, who is studying civil engineering, said: "We have been quiet so far but I don't think the staff are very happy - in fact I think some are a bit put out because they are already paying for our education. The TV facilities are excellent and it's great to sit up all night and watch the movies. It's better than home."

Hannah Stringer, 18, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, a first-year sports science and physiology student, said: "We don't really want to be seen as loafing students just taking another freebie - but I could stay here all the time."

Still, there seems to be no pleasing some people. Simon Mudd, 18, a chemistry student from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, said: "To be honest it's a bit of a hassle having to walk to and from the university. If we were in the halls, we would be on campus and able to walk straight into lectures.

"I'm not really complaining, though, because we are getting free food on a morning and I can recommend the full English breakfast. Being a first- year, though, it means I'm missing out on mingling with the rest of the freshers in the halls."