Rocketing rents could soon force Scottish students to abandon hopes of going to university
Soaring rents caused by accommodation shortages could soon make university unaffordable for many Scottish students, experts fear.
The warning came as campaigners called for urgent action from university bosses and Scottish Government ministers to address growing concerns over the “record” levels of poverty faced by students.
Tens of thousands of students will start the new academic year in Scotland in the next few weeks, but for many it will be a time of “stress and worry”.
Property market analysts say a lack of affordable accommodation is leading to rocketing rent prices, which will price Scottish students out of higher education before long, it the current trend continues.
In Glasgow, most purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) was booked-up several months ago, and average rents are at £194 per person, per week – an increase of 11.2 per cent on last year.
Richard Ward, head of research at StuRents, the largest accommodation platform for students in the UK, said demand has been steadily rising in recent years, including from overseas students, but there has been insufficient growth in the number of properties available.
He said: "The challenge, particularly for domestic students, because international students do typically have higher budgets, is basic economics – if demand is going up and supply is not, then rents are going to go up.
"And there doesn’t seem to be anything in the immediate future that will stop that trend.
"At the moment everybody is acutely aware that affordability is an issue, I’m talking literally the cost of accommodation, and everyone realises that rents can’t go up 10 per cent a year in perpetuity, but what is the limit?
"That’s the big unknown. At what point to domestic students look at the UK market and go, ‘you know what, the cost of university, purely the cost of living, is prohibitive and therefore I can’t go.
"I think the next two to three years are going to be very interesting to see if we start to see UK students just deciding not to go to university because it’s too expensive.
"I think it’s certainly a risk. Your average UK student doesn’t have infinite budgets. Parents themselves are going to be squeezed in the current environment.”
The warning comes after a survey last month found students in Edinburgh and Glasgow face greater financial pressures than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.
The two cities had both a higher cost of living for students than other cities, and the lowest average monthly income, with Edinburgh worse than Glasgow on both counts.
Students across the country have also faced disruption caused by several waves of industrial action in recent years, including an ongoing marking and assessment boycott which led to many graduating without classified degrees this summer.
Stirling University student union president Leen Ali said: “As a students’ union, we are aware of the struggles our members can often have in finding good quality, affordable housing.
"The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated this situation in terms of affordability and the number of available HMOs seems to also have increased rent.
"This is with a backdrop of student funding not keeping up with living costs - meaning students now are worse off now than they’ve ever been before.
"We’re also acutely aware that many of our international student community who are often self-funding but contribute strongly to the local economy have also shared concerns about the availability of rooms.”
The union is in regular talks with the university, as well as the local authority, about the situation.
Ellie Gomersall, president of NUS Scotland, said: "What should be an exciting time for thousands of new and returning students across Scotland is instead a time of stress and worry as we face yet another year of record accommodation shortages and student poverty.
"Universities have increased their student numbers year after year but have taken no responsibility for ensuring those students have a safe, affordable place to live.
"The cost of living and student rent has significantly increased in recent years while student support payments have simply not caught up, and combined with a lack of tenancy rights for students in purpose-built student accommodation, students are having no choice but to sign extortionate contracts that they just can't afford.
"With our research finding that 12 per cent of students have faced homelessness at some point in their studies, it's clear that the Scottish Government needs to act urgently and bring forward their commitment to increase financial support for all students in line with the Real Living Wage, along with a comprehensive system of rent controls covering all student housing.”
A spokeswoman from Universities Scotland, which represents the nation’s higher education institutions, said: “It’s important to offer students some reassurance for the academic year about to start; Scotland’s universities have worked incredibly hard over the last year to increase the capacity of suitable student accommodation available across multiple cities and to put a range of measures in place to meet the need during peak periods of demand.
"That doesn’t change the fact that students are affected by the wider challenges to the rental market in Scotland.
"Regrettably, students have been caught up in a combination of market factors and Government policies which have caused a major contraction in the availability of affordable and suitable PBSA and other parts of the mix of student accommodation.
"This will take strategic action from Governments and others to resolve.”
The industry body said more affordable, purpose-built student accommodation needed to come onto the market “as a priority”, as well as action to encourage landlords to rent to students, including a review of any local limits on HMOs, and increased financial support for students.
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