Choosing which student accommodation you want to live in is an integral part of the process of preparing for university. Most first year undergraduates, desperate to solidify a social base and anxious to fit into a new environment, disregard the option of privately rented flats, despite often paying considerably more for student accommodation.
All most students want is a decent sized bedroom, good internet connection and comfortable living conditions, in a flat near to campus. Yet the gentrification of student housing undertaken by private companies in Edinburgh is limiting, rather than expanding, choice for students.
New developments by Unite Students, such as the ‘Old Printworks’, offer rooms from over £150 a week. For that money, a student receives an en suite bathroom, a communal luxury living area and access to an on-site gym.
Studenttenant.com rightly point out in a press release that “whilst there is demand for this type of luxury accommodation, and a handful of students are willing to pay the higher prices, the new wave of housing is just too expensive for most.”
The Student reached out to the university for comment, who responded that “we have a broad range of facilities, location and price, which includes some of the lowest cost student accommodation in the country.”
Though the Students’ Association has previously managed to secure a freeze on the cheapest thousand student beds in the city, the price of most student accommodation continues to rise, with a report last year naming Edinburgh the most expensive city for students in the United Kingdom.
Considering that average flats in Edinburgh are clearly already expensive, the fact that first year accommodation is often even more so, puts into perspective the extortionate rents that halls often ask for. Outsourcing the construction of student accommodation to private companies is largely responsible for these unreasonably high living costs.
A motion submitted to Student Council last week, calling for the university to build more affordable student accommodation, is indicative of the frustration felt by the student body that not enough is being done to keep student housing affordable.
The motion acknowledges that there has been a visible rise in new accommodation built by unaccountable private companies, and appeals to the University of Edinburgh to use their profits to invest in affordable and accessible housing.
Not wishing to live in unpleasant conditions does not mean students should be forced to ask their families for financial assistance. Yet, the loans offered to students from Scotland and England would not even come close to covering the rent of Unite Students accommodation when combined with living costs. Unless able to rely on their parents to support them, students would be forced to work in excess of 20 hours a week to pay rent.
Students cannot be expected to perform at their best when under such financial pressures and, by allowing the privatisation of accommodation, the university is culpable for soaring rental costs and the stresses that comes with them. It is clear that these blocks are being built with only the wealthiest students in mind.
The ‘Access to Scotland’ report, published by the Sutton Trust in 2016, stated that Scottish universities have lower rates for accepting students from poorer backgrounds than the rest of the UK. The University of Edinburgh is especially regarded as failing to represent the demographic makeup of wider society.
It should not come as a surprise to university management that students from affluent backgrounds comprise such a sizeable part of the student body, as many prospective first years could not imagine coping with such extortionate living costs while trying to focus on new social and academic challenges.
Image: Derek Harper via Geograph