With Indian students making up 84,555 international students or 9.2% of the total foreign student population in the United Kingdom (UK) for the year 2021, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the European nation is just behind the US in terms of attracting the pupils who travel abroad for Bachelors and Master’s.
But what was supposed to be spending years in their dream study destination, has turned out to be a story of continued struggle, a case in point being a major accommodation crisis in the UK which has left many Indian students looking for housing that’s not too tough on their pockets.
Accommodation costs not easy on students
Shreyas Kale just recently graduated from Nottingham Trent University and is working full-time at a warehouse in the city of Nottingham. While Kale has joined the UK workforce, his harrowing experience with accommodation in the country continues. “I did opt for student accommodation when I came to Nottingham but it was expensive compared to the ones in the city centre,” said Kale who added that though the costs were heavy, his total bill came up to 560 Pounds which he can’t boast of anymore. “Since I have started working and am currently in my placement year, the only homes I can rent are between 850-1400 pounds which is too expensive for someone just out of University. There are no short-term accommodations and most of the contracts last for a year which is not something I want to sign on as I am unsure about being in the city till the next year,” added Kale, who is currently crashing in with one of his friends.
Though as a student one needs to have the required money and a UK-based guarantor to avail housing, a graduate often has to prove that He/She/They have a job, while also having a guarantor. The referral process for either of the things can last upto a week.
Book it or forget about it
The ongoing crisis is making it difficult for the students to find a place that is suitable for them with some settling on the first apartment they see within five minutes of viewing.
“I could barely find a place before I got here so I ended up booking the first apartment I saw. Since the market is moving super fast, the agent asked me to deposit within five minutes,” said Vidya Iyer, a student at City University, London. Students like Vidya also find the long commute to college a hassle. “I am planning to move out of my residence soon as the commute to my University is long though it’s cheap at 598 pounds,” stated the student.
UK secures the target but not good news for students
According to experts, though the year 2018-19 scenario was pretty decent, cities such as Glasgow and Bristol have had this crisis due to a lack of supply with higher ranking university cities like Manchester and Birmingham being in the same line due to the imbalance in demand and supply flow. Many who want to come to London, the country’s capital and its largest city, are also in for a rude shock as an influx of students has led to the latter being asked to defer their intake. “250-350 per person per week i.e. 1200-1800 GBP per month is the average cost in London,” said Saurabh Arora, Founder, and CEO at University Living, a student housing marketplace. “The phenomenon of the crisis is not exaggerated at all as earlier this year, the UK hit 600,000 international student targets 10 years ahead of time. This coupled with the lack of supply of student-friendly accommodation has led to this accommodation crisis. We have seen a 5x increase in inquiries from students between July-September,” added Arora, who further elaborated that accommodation takes up to 40% of a student’s expenditure.
Landlords run the game
The ‘B’ word being budget is a concern for Indian students, who are relying on limited expenses during their academic journey, while also having leisure. But the budget doesn’t dictate one’s ability to get student accommodation in London as landlords are still king.
“Landlords will take the final decision on who they want to rent the accommodation to as they have more than 200-300 applications to choose from just within half an hour of opening up bookings,” says Shriya, an MSC postgraduate in Marketing and Advertising Communications who has moved to the Scottish city of Glasgow for work.
Group viewings, wherein a group of individuals look at houses with the decision being at the behest of a landlord is something that students have experienced in the UK. “It's literally like getting a job, you don't know if you'll get it or not,” said Kale referring to such a scenario.
What could be possible solutions?
The National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations across England, in a 2021 report suggested that new skills and methods of construction could help alleviate the housing crisis in the future. A suggestion that experts believe signifies efforts and research into methods to solve the crisis have been an ongoing and evolving process just like the crisis itself.
“We have to understand that the rates within the city are also different from each other. If you compare Southall to Chiswick, both being boroughs of London, the prices are different due to the average incomes in the respective areas. So it is more important now than ever to learn as much about the destination city as possible. Certain foreign terminologies and sectors like PBSA (purpose-built student accommodations) are difficult to even come across unless students reach out to people already studying or living in the UK and learn about it from them,” said Amit Singh, Founder, UniAcco, a tech student accommodation platform.
Though pressing a panic button on the issue would be premature, the next 18-24 months are still a concern as the new supply of accommodation generally takes 12-18 months to get added, experts have said.
“Please plan early and be prepared with the right budget as due to the current housing crisis and energy crisis the cost of living across the globe, especially in Europe has increased drastically,” warned Arora.
While a looming market crisis’s effect in the UK is yet to be seen, new Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s comments on the “high number of international students coming to the country, often working in low-skilled jobs and not contributing to the economy,” and Indians overstaying on visas has met with divided opinions which has possible long-term implications on student visas in the country.