22 September 2022 17:50:26 IST

Akshaya Chandrasekaran is Sub-Editor, businessline. She covers education and start-ups for fortnightly supplement bloncampus, and writes features on brands and advertising. You can write to her at akshaya.c@thehindu.co.in and find her on Twitter at @akshayaiyerr

Indian students face perils of housing shortage in the UK 

Thousands of Indian students are struggling to find student accommodation in the UK because of a housing shortage crisis. Indian students received the largest share of student visas surpassing China at 1,17,965 in the year ending June 2022, up 215 per cent from 2019, as per official data published by the British Government.

The UK has had an influx of a record number of international students this year with 4,86,868 study visas granted — a 71 per cent increase since 2019. 

Distressed students are turning to either temporarily staying with friends or relatives, living at a hotel or Airbnb far from the university which is costing them a fortune, or some are even deferring their admissions and returning to India. Many say on-campus accommodation in most of the universities was filled up early on in the admission process.

Uncertain future

The plight of Diksha Dinde (28), who bagged the Chevening scholarship to pursue full-time Masters in Sustainability Development at the University of Sussex, is particularly demoralising. Dinde, a wheelchair user, is looking for family accommodation for her and her partner that suits her accessibility needs.

“The on-campus accommodation is full. Many rental units and landlords have started demanding exorbitant rents which I cannot afford with a stipend. Some are using this situation to demand exploitative upfront payment of security deposit as well to scam students.”

Dinde has booked her travel tickets to Sussex but is still staring at an uncertain future. “I can defer my admission, but I can’t defer my scholarship. This will become a huge missed opportunity for me,” adds Dinde.

Saurabh Arora, Founder and CEO, University Living, a student accommodation marketplace, says that more than 10,000 Indian students are struggling to find housing in the UK, according to their internal data, and Arora believes this number will increase.

“This is the highest spike we’ve seen in students flocking to the UK to study. There is a supply constraint. And that combined with inflation has made it extremely hard for students. The recent inquiries on our platform have increased by 3x compared to last year. We are only able to fulfill about 20-25 per cent of queries regarding accommodation.”

Glaring gaps

Ankita Jagtap (23) has been enrolled at the Queen Marys College London to study MSc Cancer and Clinical Oncology. She received the offer letter in August, but the on-campus accommodations were filled in June itself. Disappointed, she is now juggling several Telegram and Facebook groups to join hands with other students in similar situations.

“I have to rent an apartment now and share it with other students. I have already paid ₹2 lakh as a deposit to the college. The apartment rents are expensive, but I need to compromise. I am hoping to share with other students, it will still be expensive,” says Jagtap.

The gap in demand for accommodation and lack of supply may be a lasting one as the purpose-built and multiple occupancy student housing sector could take a while to match up to the growing demand year-on-year. Arora's advice to students is: "Book early and make informed decisions. Initiate house hunting as soon as you receive the confirmation of acceptance from the varsity. That's the only way to get pocket-friendly deals."

‘High demand’

Jamie Arrowsmith, Acting Director, Universities UK International (UUKi), and Andrew Bird, Vice-Chair, British Universities International Liaison Association (BUILA), issued a joint response saying the universities are preparing to accommodate students. “UK universities are preparing to welcome a record number of international students to our campuses and communities this year. As part of this preparation, universities are working closely with students and the housing sector to ensure students find appropriate housing.”

They also added that, “Around the world, we are seeing reports of high demand for student housing across popular global destinations. While there have been some reports of localised issues with students securing accommodation in the UK, we do not believe that this is widespread. Universities are doing everything possible to ensure that students are being supported wherever there might be concerns.”