Student housing told to fix 'awful' problems

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

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Stanhope building
Image caption,
Students were expecting to move into this building in Portsmouth at the beginning of term

The universities minister has told a summit of student-accommodation providers to sort out the "awful and disappointing" problems that have seen more than 20 student housing schemes not completed on time.

Chris Skidmore summoned housing providers after students had been put into temporary accommodation at the beginning of the autumn term.

"Students can pay significant amounts for their accommodation and it is unacceptable to let them down at a stressful time," said the minister.

Students in Portsmouth were among those affected, when a private housing block was not completed, leaving about 250 without accommodation.

High costs

The University of Portsmouth's vice-chancellor, Graham Galbraith, also complained of a lack of scrutiny of the private student-housing sector.

Responding to concerns, Mr Skidmore called a meeting of housing providers, both private and university-owned, along with student representatives and mental health experts.

"Poor accommodation, high living costs and a lack of information can seriously affect student welfare and mental health, so providers must be held to account," he said.

"With the number of students expected to rise sharply due to demographic changes in the 2020s, now is the time to prepare and think ahead about how we deliver and regulate student accommodation for the future."

Public money

Accommodation is funded from student maintenance loans - which means billions of public spending goes into the student-housing sector.

Parents also often contribute to the cost of student accommodation.

But there have been concerns this autumn about how this is regulated and how value and quality can be assured.

"Accommodation is a central issue of the student experience and it is the duty of accommodation providers, higher-education institutions and government to think carefully about what needs to happen in the future," said Mr Skidmore.

Universities UK said student accommodation increasingly involved private-sector organisations.

"It is important that all providers meet high standards, demonstrate value, and are accountable to students," said the universities' organisation.

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