Student plans weekly commute from Amsterdam to Bristol due to accommodation shortage

University offers applicants halls in Wales to cope with rise in demand

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 25 September 2019 11:15
Bristol University students offered accommodation in Wales due to room shortage

A student is considering flying to Bristol from Amsterdam every week for his postgraduate course after failing to secure housing through the university.

Sohail Braakman, a University of Bristol student, said he had applied to the institution on the premise that postgraduate accommodation would be available in the city.

But he has failed to find housing for the past six weeks due to a shortage of accommodation.

Mr Braakman, who is Dutch and lives in Amsterdam, told the BBC that budget flights from the Netherlands – which can be as low as £20 – are cheaper than renting privately in Bristol.

It comes after first-year students at the same university were left with no halls after being accepted onto courses – and some were offered housing in Wales to cope with demand.

Wilf Gillett Coles, who is due to study physics at the university in October, was left without housing. He told Inside Out on BBC West: “Most people haven’t lived anywhere on their own and halls can be quite a nice transition period but we don’t have that.

“We’ve just been thrown out into the wind.”

Grace Whittaker, another student who had no accommodation, was told that there was housing in Langford, in North Somerset, and in Newport – which is more than 30 miles away and in a different country.

She said: “If you know how big the courses are, you know how many spaces you have for students and you know how many halls you have for students – so why give out so many offers and why let people through clearing if we are not going to have accommodation?”

A record number of students across the country took up places on degrees through clearing this year.

Competition between universities to recruit students, who pay £9,250 a year, has grown as there are fewer 18-year-olds in the population and yet student numbers at institutions remain uncapped.

Universities across the UK have been expanding in recent years – and the number of students at Bristol has risen by 15 per cent in three years, from 21,555 in 2014-15 to 24,850 in 2017-18.

George Bemrose, student living officer at the University of Bristol’s Students’ Union, said that in every year of his course there were too many people in the lecture hall.

“It would be cramped. Especially in first year it felt as if everyone was pushing into each other to sit there,” he said. “They are trying to stretch each course as much as possible.”

Mr Braakman added that he thought the university was accepting too many people – similar to airlines overbooking flights.

He said: “If I knew about the housing situation in Bristol, if it was transparent that there was not much accommodation in general, then I wouldn’t choose Bristol.”

Mr Bemrose told The Independent: “There are still a number of postgraduate and Erasmus students who are struggling to find accommodation in the private market.”

“I still think there is work that needs to be done to ensure all students are getting the help they need,” he added. “We need to prevent a similar situation happening in the future.”

Eva Crossan Jory, vice president for welfare at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “The fact that flying to and from university is a cheaper and simpler option than renting is a damning example of the housing crisis students are facing.

“Universities are simply not doing enough to ensure all their students have access to affordable, safe and decent accommodation from the start.”

Sarah Purdy, who is responsible for student wellbeing at the University of Bristol, said she was “really sorry” to hear students were anxious about a lack of accommodation.

But she said the process was similar each year and it will be “same in every university” in the UK.

Ms Purdy added: “I think this year there were larger numbers of students involved in the process in part because we had fewer students who decided to defer or withdraw from the guaranteed offer.”

But she insisted that the university had not “let students in, over and above the numbers” it had planned to admit.

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A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Colleagues in our accommodation team have been working incredibly hard over the past few weeks to individually support those students who were not part of the 6,000 students we have already placed in university-owned or university-managed accommodation.

“As each day has passed we have managed to bring down the number still looking for suitable accommodation and before our students started to arrive this weekend we were able to offer every student accommodation in Bristol or at our Langford campus.”

They added: “We believe our website and the information we supply to students gaining a place at Bristol is clear about the accommodation we can offer and the processes we follow. We are sorry if Sohail or any other student feels it is not clear.

“We always look to see where our processes can be improved and we will review our communications as part of this.”

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