If you are paying more to be at university, do you deserve a better quality place to live? Do your Halls of Residence match your expectations when you sign up to a course that costs more than previous years?
It seems increased tuition fees are not only driving up students’ expectations of teaching quality, but accommodation too. The £9000 cap on tuition fees, and a yearly fee of up to £39,000 for non-EU students, is causing students to question the quality of their Halls of Residence. And rightly so; paying more for the university experience is creating demand for high quality accommodation, which it seems is not yet readily available.
The UK has recently seen a huge rise in the influx of overseas students, particularly from outside the EU, including the number of Chinese students rising from 56,990 to 67,325 last year. In larger cities, international students can make up around 40% of university’s intakes. With generally higher spending power than British students, they are expecting top notch accommodation to match their expensive university lifestyle.
According to the Financial Times, the surge of overseas students applying to live and study here is motivating the Chinese government to make a deal with Gingko Tree Investment – the UK’s largest developer in student housing – and buy a 40 per cent stake.
Vita Student is another business, started up to tap into this market and meet student demands of better quality lodgings. Their website claims its success has ‘been driven by targeting Russell Group university cities and the high demand from international students.’ Their company will offer: “luxury student accommodation,” and self-contained apartments, each with a kitchen and en-suite bathroom “fully furnished to hotel-style standard.” Their director, Giles Beswick, says non-EU students are “paying five-star prices to come to Britain so many will expect five-star accommodation when they arrive.”
“Due to the fact that demand well outstrips supply, student property across the UK has been, in many cases, sub-standard.” So, it seems that despite the global economic crisis, the student property market continues to boom.
Beswick added: “Last year the majority of foreign students from outside the EU came from China, a country which now has well over one million millionaires. To tap into this market of new, high-paying foreign consumers, we need to provide accommodation which matches their high standard of expectation.”
I spoke to Yumei Chua, who came from Malaysia to study at Southampton. Upon arrival, she was disappointed with her accommodation: “I’d expected WIFI instead of cable internet connection; it is not very convenient… I seriously think that we need a kitchen smoke exhauster. We should have washing and drying machines at least in each block, because for students living in blocks far away it is very time consuming to bring stuff all the way to the laundry room.” But she added that she “picked the cheapest accommodation on hand, so there’s nothing out of expectation.”
Some students think that just paying more for tuition fees should equate to better places to live as well as teaching and resources, but without actually paying higher Halls fees. I spoke to some students at the University who are finding their Halls of Residence do not meet their expectations, and in fact hoped for better in light of the increased fees which are, in some cases, almost triple from previous years.
Postgraduate Katie Arlow says: “as fees rise, the degrees may get better, but standard of living certainly hasn’t.” She was highly disappointed to find “…dust balls and cobwebs all over the place…My curtains are even broken. It is not okay to expect us to pay the extortionate amount of money we do when the accommodation is not even clean, let alone decent.”
Students may not be paying an increased rate for where they are living, but some argue that forking out for a more costly university experience overall should mean having a luxurious place to live too. Whilst some may have previously been willing to accept poor standards on the basis of first-time independence, this may change; applicants are being forced to pay out hefty sums for tuition resulting in an expectation of quality rooms to match.
Jasmine Fudge, a Fresher paying the higher rate fees and living in Connaught, also on the Wessex lane complex, agrees the low quality accommodation she is faced with is “not what you expect when you are paying so much.” She added: “the fact we are paying £9000 a year now…there is no excuses for things such as toilets and heating not to work.”
It cannot be denied that a more costly degree will put extra pressure on students to enjoy their time at university, encompassing Halls of Residence or private rented rooms. Paying more than previous years is a firm reminder that Uni life should be all students hope for, making them less willing to put up with poor standards. I asked Fresher Alex Gledhill if he thinks paying less to study would make him more willing to be patient and accept problems, like dirtiness or broken furniture – he said “Yes, definitely!”
However, some disagree, stating the increased costs apply to tuition fees only. Fresher Joe Buckingham says: “Is anyone paying £9000 a year for accommodation? The £9000 is for tuition fees…complaining that you didn’t get decent housing when you paid for tuition would be a bit unfair.”
Surge Radio held The Key Debate on Friday, discussing higher tuition fees with a panel that included Ben Dowling from the Liberal Democrat Society. I asked: as students are paying higher fees, will they see an improvement in student accommodation and housing? His response was: “money going into universities has been increasing continuously in the last decade, and with that, universities are being encouraged both by government and by outside bodies, to improve the accommodation that they provide…I would say that it is within their interest and the students interest that they do improve accommodation. And I do see that happening in a number of universities across the country.”