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Photography Johnny Briggs / Unsplash

Students struggling to find homes should just quit, says Glasgow University

For students in the UK, the housing crisis is spiralling out of control

The housing crisis continues to hammer students in the UK. Thanks to soaring rents and a severe shortage of available flats, many students in Glasgow have returned from the summer break with nowhere to stay. 

In response to the situation – which one anonymous lecturer has described as a “crisis” – the University of Glasgow has suggested that the affected students should consider deferring their course or even withdrawing entirely. The university is also advising people that they should not complete registration or travel to Glasgow until they have secured accommodation. Understandably not wanting to drop out of their degrees, many students have resorted to sofa-surfing and others have nowhere to go. 

According to the university, demand for accommodation “continues to be substantially ahead of expectation both in Glasgow and more broadly across the UK”. Earlier this summer, first-year students at the university were denied a place in halls of residence if they lived within commuting distance from the city. Even those coming from further afield were told they would not be guaranteed accommodation.

The university has said that it has already increased its accommodation capacity by 25 per cent, but this has evidently not been enough to counter Glasgow’s severe shortage of private rental flats, along with the growing level of demand. At the same time as there is a ‘housing shortage’, there are around 7,000 vacant properties in the city. The issue is less a lack of housing stock and more about how it is distributed, which is a problem across the UK (according to 2022 research, there are enough empty homes in the UK to house the homeless population three times over). The Scottish government has started compulsory purchase orders to put these empty homes back into use, but they need to do a lot more of this to really make a dent.

While Glasgow is so far the only university which has advised homeless students to consider dropping out,  the housing crisis is affecting student cities across the UK. This year has seen a flurry of reports of students being forced to live in nearby(ish) cities and commute to university. At the University of West England (in Bristol), freshers have been offered accommodation in Newport, which is almost an hour away; while Manchester Met has offered £100 a week for students who are willing to live in Liverpool or Huddersfield. 

While specific to students, these problems are reflective of a wider crisis in housing. The availability of rental properties has shrunk by half since 2019, and rents across the UK have increased by the highest rate since the financial crash of 2008. Since the pandemic, more and more private landlords are selling their properties, while many are finding it more lucrative to rent their flats on Airbnb. Coupled with the fact that more people are going to university than ever, it’s a recipe for a student housing disaster. The solution needs to involve building affordable accommodation on a vast scale – for everyone, not just students – but there’s little reason to think the UK’s housing market is willing or capable of doing this, not least because scarcity drives up prices.