The ups and downs of life as a student renter - David Alexander

Students living in Edinburgh will be glad to know their chosen city is the most affordable in Great Britain for renting a home-from-home. Even if property professionals might challenge this assertion contained in the Student Living Index 2022, compiled by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

David Alexander is chief executive officer of DJ Alexander
David Alexander is chief executive officer of DJ Alexander

Just to be clear, I am not questioning the veracity of the RBS figures. But when they produce £200 as the average monthly rent for students in Edinburgh then the inference I take is that the figure must be based on halls of residence, specialist “pods” and other forms of accommodation especially geared towards, and available only to, students.

Indeed, one positive to be taken from this is that Edinburgh is especially “geared” towards student accommodation given that the average rent for the capital compares favourably with Manchester, where the figure is £556, and is well below the GB average of £455. Glasgow, incidentally, is above the national average at £467.

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However, specialist accommodation does not suit every student and in the conventional rental market they will typically be paying £400 to £450 per month just to rent a room. A two-person flat share will cost £1,000 or more while there are some students, especially those from abroad and in particular the Far East, who are paying – or, rather their parents are paying – £2,000 a month for a top-end flat. With their offspring so far from home, concerned Asian parents put as much emphasis on security as they do on luxuries – and are prepared to pay a premium for the privilege.

Edinburgh is affordable for students
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So how do students fund their rental costs and other living expenses such as food, clothing and entertainment? Well, the latter isn’t such a big deal in Edinburgh when it comes to alcohol, according to the RBS figures, with students spending just over £22 a month, on average, on booze – less than half than Glasgow students who are forking out £48 a month. I never realised Edinburgh students had such a reputation for “temperance”!

According to the survey, the average time students spent working in part-time jobs has more than doubled since last year, coinciding with the removal of lockdown restrictions. Of the 21 university cities surveyed, Edinburgh produced the shortest times spent on part-time work – an average of 10.22 hours a month. This compared with nearly 40 hours in Glasgow and a GB average of 28.2 hours.

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If correct these figures may come as a surprise given the amount of vacancies, both full-time and part-time, currently available in Edinburgh, especially in the hospitality sector. I refuse to believe Edinburgh-based students are “lazier” than their counterparts elsewhere in the country; could it be the statistics are massaged by a hard core who are from relatively-wealthy backgrounds and who do not need to take jobs to help fund their studies? Interestingly, of the 21 cities, students in Edinburgh are the least reliant on loans, according to the Index.

The University of Edinburgh is within the top ten of the “Russell Group” (i.e. top performing) universities in the country but for some students the lifestyle that Edinburgh, the city, offers is itself an attraction.

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Meanwhile through in Glasgow, the Students Representative Council has claimed a shortage of accommodation is partly down to the university accepting too many new applications to study there.

It is not my intention to get involved in what is, after all, an internal matter. However in Glasgow, as in other university cities, a proportion of the student population continue to rely on the conventional rental market for accommodation and the growing shortage there will no doubt have contributed to the problem. As an example, our Glasgow office recently advertised a student flat in the city and 50 people turned up to view.

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Tax changes introduced by the Westminster and Holyrood governments have marginalised overall profits on buy-to-let, with the result that larger than expected numbers of landlords are selling up. That there are just not the same numbers of new entrants coming in as there once were is adding to the problem. This trend is likely to increase if interest rates rise further, inflation is brought under control, and easily-managed, money-based accounts once again offer a real return – or at least pay sufficient interest to maintain the value of people’s savings.

David Alexander is chief executive officer of DJ Alexander

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