Student accommodation

Student accommodation has emerged as a pressing concern for large numbers of students during the coronavirus pandemic.

These case studies include some of the ways in which universities, colleges and others are supporting the accommodation needs of their students during the outbreak.

These interventions have been developed at pace and have not yet been evaluated for effectiveness. Their inclusion is not intended to stipulate particular approaches or endorse the actions of specific institutions. They are offered in the spirit of sharing practice that others may find useful and applicable to their own contexts.

Staffordshire University has waived final-term accommodation fees for students residing in university-managed accommodation who chose to return to their family homes.

For students who chose to stay in campus accommodation, final term fees were reduced by 30 per cent as the university felt it was important to acknowledge that lockdown has reduced opportunities for students to earn money through part-time work.

Care leavers and estranged students living in campus accommodation will not be required to pay final term accommodation fees. Where a local authority has not paid these fees on their behalf, fees will be waived by the university.

Staffordshire University and Staffordshire University’s Students’ Union are working together to help students in private accommodation, as well as those in university accommodation, to access food, cleaning and sanitary products, and health and wellbeing support.

During the first week of the lockdown, the students’ union contacted student tenants through Greenpad, its accommodation service, to find out whether they intended to remain in their accommodation, identify any immediate support required, and signpost relevant advice and support services.

The students’ union is working closely with contractors to manage essential repairs and maintenance and to ensure compliance; liaising with private landlords to deal with queries related to student finances, and working to agree payment plans as required; and providing students living in private sector accommodation with template letters to refer to when contacting their landlords with rent queries.

In addition, the university has sent a joint letter from Staffordshire University and Keele University to private landlords, with input from the North Staffs Landlord Association.

The university and the students’ union are also working together to organise events and activities for all students still living on or near the university, including video game tournaments, cookery demonstrations, fitness classes and a virtual ‘One Staffs Café’ designed to bring together Staffordshire University students from across the globe.

Certain student accommodation management companies have allowed students who have moved out to cancel their rent for the third term. They have also produced regular updates, FAQs and other communications, discussed payment plans with individual students, and collated information about university-specific hardship and financial support schemes for residents in difficulty.

Some companies are assisting with shopping and other services, and helping to support students’ mental and physical health and wellbeing – for example, providing details of university-specific and national online mental wellbeing and health services, setting up residents’ online chat groups, and providing access to online fitness classes.

The students’ union and the university are organising a range of virtual events, games and other interventions for students remaining in halls. These include:

  • virtual language-learning
  • volunteering opportunities
  • fitness sessions
  • study groups
  • mindfulness activities
  • quiz sessions
  • book and poetry discussions
  • ‘Netflix parties’.

There is an active Facebook student community group. The students’ union and the university’s accommodation services have arranged pastoral phone calls to check in with residents, assist with any queries, provide assurance and offer help if needed.

Additional student wellbeing support, including via Big White Wall, a mental health support community, is available online and by phone.

The university’s student services team is providing support to all students – whether on or off campus – through telephone calls, live chat and video conferencing. This includes support relating to mental health, academic issues, financial issues, and immigration and visa compliance. Tutorial support is offered to students with specific learning differences such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. All the university’s vulnerable students have been proactively contacted to ascertain any issues and provide support as required.

The university has launched a new ‘Exceptional Circumstances Fund’ to support students who have lost an income stream on which they rely and that cannot be obtained from any other source – for example, as a result of lost or reduced income from employment. Students who do not have a laptop have been able to loan equipment, and dongles have been provided to students without internet access.

Separate rooms are available for students needing to self-isolate, along with a package of support which includes daily check-ins from the student welfare team, who also ensure that they have food and other essential items.

Resources

The government has published guidance on isolation in educational residential settings, including student halls of residence and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

The government has published advice for households whose members may be infected with coronavirus.

The Department for Education has published frequently asked questions from university students on how the coronavirus might impact higher education. There is a section on accommodation.

Universities UK has published answers to common questions relating to COVID-19 and students who continue to live on campus, as well as those living in privately rented accommodation.

Citizens Advice has information on what to do if you can’t pay your rent. There is a range of tenancy types and rental arrangements, and the laws and regulations governing them may differ accordingly. In general, payment of rent is a contractual obligation – students should seek advice if they are considering withholding payment of rent or struggling to keep up with payments.

Unipol, the student accommodation charity, has advice for students and landlords on their website and the National Code website.

Published 15 May 2020

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