Every year before the start of the Undergraduate term, Postgraduate students arrive to begin their Postgraduate Taught (PGT) and Postgraduate Research (PGR) courses or attend Orientation and Postgraduate Welcome Week. They move here from home, often from overseas, paying a LOT of money to study a long course, often with no knowledge of the local area and - if they’re new to Warwick - no nearby friendship groups. On top of all the stress that this situation brings, they are moving into new accommodation. But what if they turn up to Warwick and find that they actually DON’T have anywhere to live?
Astonishingly, this academic year is the third year in a row that a large group of Postgraduates will be experiencing this exact problem. Approximately 180 Postgraduates will be homeless (and those are just the students the University knows about) at the start of term and will have to hurriedly make friends and search for somewhere to live in an already saturated housing market, all while trying to attend lectures or begin their studies. Can you imagine the distress students in this position must be experiencing?
This is occurring once again due to the University’s poor estimation of the number of students who will attend the University at postgraduate level. We have raised our concerns about this issue every year that it has happened, including several instances already this year. It is therefore beyond disappointing to hear staff within the University saying it is out of their control, when clearly much more can – and must – be done. Despite the SU presenting considerable evidence on this issue to them over the last 2 years, they still do not seem to understand the distress these students are experiencing when they do not have somewhere to call ‘home’.
The responsibility for helping these students then falls to Warwick Accommodation - who are limited in what they can do to help due to the number of actual rooms available - and to the Students’ Union Advice Centre, which is already working at capacity. Thankfully, Warwick Accommodation is improving the communication on this issue to students affected and the SU Advice Centre has recruited three dedicated student Housing Ambassadors to help homeless Postgraduates.
This problem is based on the continued absence of a cap on admissions and student numbers. The University has eyes bigger than its stomach, and has allowed departments to send out far more offers to prospective students than can physically be accommodated. While it is fine to set targets for recruitment, the University should also put caps on numbers to ensure that departments do not over-recruit. Evidently though, the lure of large revenues brought in by Postgraduate tuition fees is much too great to resist – but for this to come at the expense of students’ welfare year after year is becoming galling.
This approach to recruitment is unsustainable – and it is impacting on Undergraduate recruitment too, with unprecedented numbers of undergraduates set to room-share when they arrive this October. Many of the University’s services are already running at or beyond capacity – study space, teaching space, department resources, support services, food and beverage outlets and accommodation are all at bursting point. The short-term commitments to increasing these services are not sufficient, while the ‘quick fixes’ implemented to help deal with the immediate issue, such as putting up students in hotels far removed from the University community and offering externally-run accommodation which is unaffordable for most students, are simply not good enough.
The University should not be treating courses like an airline, selling more tickets than there are seats available in the hope some passengers won’t actually turn up to the gate. It is disappointing when the University assumes the issue will be mitigated when some students decide to leave the Institution or not even turn up; indeed, it is INEXCUSABLE for the University to hope that students drop out to solve the problem. This not only contrasts with the University’s strategy to ensure that as many students as possible remain at Warwick and complete their course, but displays a belligerent attitude towards students’ wellbeing and future.
To all Postgraduates in this situation: please remember there is plenty of support available for you. If you find yourself in this situation, speak to Reception in Senate House immediately, and Warwick Accommodation will organise temporary accommodation for you. Then, come to the Advice Centre on the second floor of the Students’ Union HQ building (on central campus) between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday, where our trained Welfare Advisors and Housing Ambassadors will be able to help you find accommodation.
Please remember these important tips:
1. DO NOT feel pressured into renting a house immediately.
2. DO NOT hand over any money to anyone without visiting the property.
3. DO NOT hand over your passport or any identification and leave it with a stranger.
4. DO bring your contract to the Students’ Union Advice centre and ask to have it checked by a Welfare Advisor BEFORE you sign it.
5. DO NOT respond to accommodation offers on social media websites, and please be EXTREMELY CAREFUL on websites like Gumtree, Rightmove or Spareroom.com, as scammers often operate here. We do however have our own protected Facebook group for you to find housemates: http://on.fb.me/1KZAzFQ
6. PLEASE attend one of the Postgraduate Housing Advice Sessions, hosted in the Postgraduate Hub over the next few weeks, for advice: http://bit.ly/1M5REMi
7. Contact the SU Advice Centre by phone at 02476 572824 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to seek advice.
Predictions for the number of homeless Postgraduates this year has been highly variable and reached a peak of 500. Thankfully this is not the final figure, but the point remains that we should not even be in this position in the first place. The recurrence of this situation is extremely telling of the University’s attitude towards Postgraduates and students in general, and is simply not fair. It MUST change. The University must take more responsibility for the admissions process and must try harder to monitor recruitment within departments - it is NOT impossible.
In the meantime, we will do what we can to mitigate the situation, and to all our students: please look out for your peers. This time of year is hard enough as it is without having somewhere to call home.