Student housing failures 'deeply concerning'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

image captionStudents were expecting to move into this building in Portsmouth for the new term

The universities minister says it is "deeply concerning" so many student housing blocks remain unfinished, leaving students in temporary accommodation.

Chris Skidmore is calling together providers of student accommodation, many of them private developers, to "ensure these failures don't happen again".

This represents almost a third of the current private student-housing developments, according to the Unipol student housing charity.

Mr Skidmore tweeted: "We cannot allow this inadequacy to continue."

Student housing has been seen as a lucrative option for investors - but this autumn has seen a rash of accommodation projects not delivered on time.


It has meant housing problems for students in places including Portsmouth, Bristol, Lincoln, Swansea and Liverpool.

There have been concerns from student leaders about wellbeing and mental health when those leaving home for the first time might find themselves in temporary housing away from other students.

At the University of Portsmouth, about 250 students have had to be placed in alternative accommodation.

Politics student Destiny said she had spent the past three weeks in a hotel, away from other students and with no cooking facilities.

"I've been feeling really anxious," she told BBC News. "I can't concentrate on my studies."

image captionDestiny has been stuck in temporary accommodation after her student block was not completed on time

As with many new student housing blocks, the building project in Portsmouth was a private property development - with no involvement or link with the university.

"In many cases, universities have absolutely no say in how private student accommodation is run, its price, or how providers treat our students when things go wrong," the university's vice-chancellor, Prof Graham Galbraith, said.

Public money

Much of the growth in student housing has been fuelled by billions of pounds of public money - in the form of maintenance loans for their living costs.

But Prof Galbraith said there was "no real control" or strategic planning for private student housing.

He welcomed Mr Skidmore's intervention and is calling for greater scrutiny and regulation of the sector.

He also wants better consumer protection for students signing housing contracts, as some "arrangements are incredibly one-sided".

Universities UK said its code of conduct applied only to university-owned housing - which means any private student developments will not be covered.

And the higher education regulator, the Office for Students, said it "doesn't have powers to regulate private accommodation providers".

Prime Student Living, the private housing company behind the Stanhope House site in Portsmouth, said it had "unreservedly apologised to students".

"We believe that we have done everything possible to mitigate the impact for those affected in the time available," said a spokesman.

"We will continue to do all we can to get students into the building as an urgent priority."

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