Saving Private Students: What is life like in university-leased private halls?
An investigation by The Mancunion has revealed students were left feeling “stressed and frustrated” after oversubscription of accommodation led to first-year students being assigned to private halls leased out by the university.
Lauren, a first year medical student and Emily, a first year History student, were both placed in private halls by the University despite not actually applying for them. They spoke to The Mancunion about the process of getting placed in these halls and their experiences living there.
Lauren and Emily were allocated their accommodation at the end of August 2021. They both said they’d received their allocation very close to the moving in date, and much later than many of their peers. This meant that they were left with very few days to decide whether they would accept the accommodation.
Lauren said she “felt very stressed and frustrated with university starting so soon, with no word from the university about accommodation”. She soon began to worry “whether she would have anywhere to live at all”.
When they finally received their allocation of accommodation Lauren and Emily were told via email that “Due to high demand for accommodation the university has provided an additional number of rooms at Wilmslow Park Hall of Residence.”
Wilmslow Park are private halls administered by IQ Student Accommodation on Oxford Road, which according to the IQ website “offers a variety of student rooms in Manchester, with social spaces, transport links to universities and local amenities”.
For the academic year 21/22 many freshers found themselves placed in an accommodation they never applied to; in fact, many were not placed in ‘university’ accommodation at all. The reason why so many students like Emily and Lauren were placed in these leased out private halls was due to a large increase in students applying for university accommodation for this academic year.
The Mancunion obtained statistics via a Freedom of Information request, revealing that for the academic year beginning September 2021 a total of 718 more undergraduates applied for university accommodation than in the previous two years.
Whilst 125 fewer postgraduates applied, a net total of 593 more students applied for accommodation this year than the previous two. This increase of students, alongside the closure of other university-run accommodation like Owens Park, has resulted in the University of Manchester leasing out privately run student halls to house their students.
The price of the halls has also been an issue for the students living there. When they were put into the accommodation the halls originally cost £168.00 per week, making them the most expensive self-catered halls offered by the university. However, this was later lowered to £158.00 per week.
Both girls were confused and somewhat distressed when they found out where they would be moving to, for they feared that being in private halls would not only be more expensive but also not allow them to have the ‘real’ university experience they were looking forward to. They were concerned about the different experience they would have living in these halls as opposed to more classic University accommodation.
Emily told The Mancunion she initially tried to look for alternative accommodation but upon meeting her flatmates decided she wouldn’t change. Similarly, Lauren decided that with only 5 days before the deadline to accept her offer she would take it to avoid missing out on university accommodation altogether. Both agreed had they been given longer they would have attempted to live somewhere else.
Over the past two semesters Emily and Lauren have found benefits of living in their accommodation.
Emily likes the facilities and enjoys having the privacy of en-suite. She was pleased with the fact that the kitchen/lounge is fairly spacious. Although she found it quite frustrating that those who were paying less in other accommodations had amenities the private halls do not, such as a vacuum cleaner for each flat.
The biggest downside that both Lauren and Emily brought up was the size of the flats and the sociability of the accommodation. The flats in their accommodation range from 3 to 5 people in total. Whilst this does it keep the accommodation peaceful; Lauren and Emily found they had to trade the chance to meet a greater number of their peers for this ‘peace’.
If given the choice, both girls believed they may have chosen to live in more traditional university accommodation. This is especially the case when talking to students who live in Fallowfield campus halls, as they don’t share many of the infamous aspects of ‘Fallowfield student life’. Lauren stated that when in her accommodation, she sometimes doesn’t feel like she is actually at university. Both feel isolated at times, as often the flat can be empty, when there are very few other people to be around.
It is interesting to note that as it stands these halls are not currently an available option for students applying for university accommodation. Whilst they were not an option in 2021, this year they are on the website but it is stated that they will not actually be available for the next academic year.
Many students come to university hoping to live with several other students. Large flats often help to curb feelings of isolation very quickly have the chance to meet several new people, giving freshers a wide pool of potential friends to draw from.
This communal living is seen as an integral part of the university experience many students love. Both Lauren and Emily feel as though they have missed out on that, stating that they both had wanted to live with a larger number of people and feel as though in these flats they don’t really get the true University experience.
The main thing that Lauren and Emily would have liked to see when getting allocated their accommodation was more time to decide and less uncertainty in the run up to moving into their halls.
Overall Emily and Lauren have had an interesting and perhaps different first year university experience. They acknowledged their issue of sociability wasn’t “the end of the world” but they would have still liked to experience university like most of their peers.
Despite the less than ideal living conditions of some Fallowfield Halls of Residence, they continue to have a charm for those living there. The allure of an active social life and opportunities to mix with hundreds of like-minded students are a persistent draw of Fallowfield life.
Clearly, private halls have been used as a temporary solution to the large increase in demands for student halls at the University of Manchester. Whilst their facilities are an improvement on many of the other university halls of residence, it seems that social life is still an important factor in the experience and life in student halls – an experience which private halls do not seem to have the same ability to recreate.
A University of Manchester spokesperson said:
“The University’s student accommodation offer consists of University owned Halls of Residence, and those leased from Private Providers. The number of bedrooms required each is planned in advance, with the University aiming to meet the demand for accommodation, without having an over provision of rooms. There are years where the popularity of the University results in a higher than expected intake of new students; 2021-22 has been such a year. It was therefore necessary to source additional accommodation during the summer of 2021; the additional rooms at Wilmslow Park were arranged as part of this response.
“The University Accommodation Office attempts each year to match students’ preferences in their applications with which hall of residence they offered. Typically it is possible to achieve this for over 80% of applicants. Due to the popularity of some halls however, it is not possible to guarantee a choice of accommodation. The ensuite self-catered accommodation at Wilmslow Park is well located and of good quality and is therefore still considered to be an appropriate offer of accommodation for University of Manchester students.
“The rent for Wilmslow Park was carefully considered and following consultation with the student body it was realigned to closer match the rest of the University accommodation offer.
“Wilmslow Park was not available to lease again from 2022 onwards; instead the University is entering into suitable alternative arrangements.”