Judges refuse to judge category at Student Accommodation Awards over 'high rents'

A student typing

Judges at the first ever Student Accommodation Awards have refused to name a winner in one category.

Ten students from across the UK were asked to pick the provider that gave the best overall experience.

But they've told Newsbeat the nominated halls charged unfairly high rents and put profit before customers.

Property Week, the magazine putting on the Student Accommodation Awards, says it "completely respect[s] the decision" of the panel.

A messy student room

The first ever awards are in London in December, with categories including developer of the year, best university halls and even personality of the year.

But there'll be no prize for student experience of the year.

High rents are driving the social cleansing of education. Working class students are being priced out: unable to access higher education altogether, or forced to work long hours, disadvantaging the poorest
Open letter from judges

In an open letter, the judges from 10 different universities argued that "none of the entrants could demonstrate that they are meeting the urgent need of students to live in accommodation that will not force them into poverty".

"Students are not seeking luxury getaways or cinemas in our living rooms. We are not 'satisfied' knowing our student debt is lining the pockets of millionaire shareholders.

"High rents are driving the social cleansing of education. Working class students are being priced out: unable to access higher education altogether, or forced to work long hours, disadvantaging the poorest."

Laura Lunn-Bates
Image caption The judges, like Laura, were picked from universities around the UK

Laura Lunn-Bates, 21 and a student at Sheffield Hallam University, was one of the judges.

She says the panel had "never met before", but the decision to boycott the category was "unanimous".

According to the NUS, the average cost of student halls in the UK is £146 per week.

If you start at an English university outside London next year, that would eat up more than 90% of the maximum loan you can get.

For students in London the figure would be closer to 70%.

But Laura says one of the nominees on the shortlist was charging £300 a week.

Students cheering
Image caption This is what students look like, apparently. We'd have ordered more pizza

"We couldn't give the prize to anyone because when you're charging students over £146 per week it's extortionate," she explains.

"These companies year on year are charging more and more and boasting about their profits.

"They're profiting from students and students are getting further and further into debt.

"It's leading to this social change where only the few can go to university."

Laura says on top of the rent issue, some of the potential winners weren't fully accessible for disabled people, while others charged high administration fees.

Another of the judges, Jenny Killin from the University of Aberdeen, called student accommodation "despicable exploitation".

student

"The real 'student experience' is too often a choice between paying bills or buying food," she said.

"We are getting into huge levels of debt, only so private businesses can make huge profits.

"Asking us to hand out an award when so many students are being pushed into poverty makes a mockery of what is a very real crisis."

In a statement to Newsbeat, the Student Accommodation Awards said it had removed the category from this year's event and plan to review it for 2017.

"Developers and operators of student accommodation strive to produce the very best environment for students but our student judges have sent a clear message that the industry needs to do better.

"Next year we will expand the awards categories and include a category for the best affordable student accommodation."

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