Image Credit: Annie Watson
Last Thursday I received a text from my Grandma that read: ‘Local TV says your new student colleagues will have to live in Hull. York has no space in halls for new students!! So glad you are past all that’ — a text which elegantly sums up my feelings on the situation: shock, outrage and a little guilty relief.
Due to a colossal housing shortage in York, some new students have been offered their accommodation 38 miles away in Hull. This presents a range of challenges and, in my opinion, reflects badly on the university. It appears that because of the incredibly high number of deferrals from last year as well as apparent grade inflation in the 2021 A Levels, York, along with many other universities, has become massively oversubscribed. Yet, when you apply to York you do not see even a scribbled caveat buried in terms and conditions that you could ever end up living so many miles away from campus.
One of my favourite things about York is its bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. A social world that will be completely alien to these students if they keep having to catch the University’s shuttle bus back to Hull. In fact, this is nothing against Hull, it too has lovely bars, cafes and restaurants, but it also has a well renowned university and if these were the bars and streets that students wanted to frequent then they would have chosen Hull in the first place.
All large scale freshers’ events are taking place late into the night in York city centre, surely presenting logistical and potentially safety issues for Hull-based students wishing to participate in these events without having to sulk off early to get on a bus. Even in my own pandemic ridden first year, late night bus trips and the walk from campus to town served as a vital bonding experience. However, these students will be constantly stuck on lonely shuttle buses and denied the magic of meeting a new friend at the back of the 66, or in the queue for Nisa.
There is another thing that lies beneath this move that I find quite worrying: all the students who put York as their firm choice have been granted accommodation in the city, and some of those who came to the University through clearing have been placed in Hull. To me this is a huge oversight by the University. It creates the ethos that those who have joined York through clearing are somehow less valuable and receive a much smaller proportion of the university's attention. This seems a dangerous precedent to set for the future validity of York's clearing program.
Moreover, clearing is designed to fill vacant places on universities courses by students who have changed their minds or didn’t receive the grades for their initial choices. The key word here being ‘vacant’: I fail to understand how the university can be offering available places on courses when they do not have the physical space to house these students, surely that place is not really ‘vacant’?
Students who have been placed in Hull accommodation have been told that although it is ‘not ideal’ they will be offered a twenty five percent discount on accommodation (moving up from a measly ten percent after lobbying from YUSU) and a free shuttle bus between the two cities.
While it is good that the university understands the inadequacy of this situation and prepares to compensate the students, this offer doesn’t meet other uni’s standards. The University of Leeds offered law and business students £10,000 and free accommodation to defer their places for a year after realising that these courses were oversubscribed. Exeter and Durham also offered their students upwards of £1,000 to defer from oversubscribed courses. With this knowledge, maybe the mere twenty five percent discount and free shuttles feel a little flimsy.
However, it appears that some students placed in Hull feel relieved to have got any accommodation at all.
Even as I write this, less than a week before freshers move in, the Facebook freshers pages are covered in desperate requests for any sort of private or university accommodation. This lack of accommodation must be a wake up call for universities to see students as real human beings (who need real beds and showers and kitchens), not just anonymous pay-checks.
York and Hull are both beautiful cities with a lot to offer, so I hope all the students who have found themselves in this position make the most out of it. But for many, understandably, it is far from ideal. More than anything, I hope that they are allowed to move into the temporary on campus accommodation in January 2022.