The students behind Bristol’s non-guaranteed student accommodation crisis


By Flossie Palmer, Features Editor

Epigram recently reported on the acute shortage of university accommodation for incoming ‘non-guaranteed undergraduate applicants’. Following up on this, Epigram's Features Editor has spoken to students caught in the student housing crisis.

After an unprecedented influx of successful applicants were accepted into the University of Bristol for this upcoming academic year, ‘non-guaranteed’ students appear to have been disregarded in the process. Students entering the University through clearing or by firming Bristol as their ‘insurance choice’ have been faced with what can only be called a student housing crisis. With University accommodation already at full capacity, prospective freshers have been left to struggle through navigating Bristol’s private housing sector, or the bleak reality of being offered accommodation in Bath, over 12 miles from their university city.

Speaking to Epigram one fresher said ‘I had Bristol as my firm choice. I applied to accommodation on the first day it was available, I spent days researching all of the accommodation options and chose my top 9 options - all being en suite single rooms. When I got my offer I was told my only option was a twin room in _____ with a basin and a bathroom shared between 6.’

The fresher continued on to claim: ‘if you look at the accommodation website, there is no twin room with a basin.’ This student, on contacting the university about this, was left with the understanding that a single room had been made into a twin by the addition of an extra bed.

On the ‘New Student FAQs’ section of UoB's accommodation webpage, the University states ‘If you are unhappy with your offer please be aware that we will be unable to offer alternatives due to high demand’, in answer to the FAQ ‘I've been offered a twin room but I don't want to share with another student’.

An example of a room share at Wills Hall as seen on the University of Bristol's accommodation webpage 

One student had an original guaranteed accommodation offer of a shared bedroom in University-owned accommodation for £160 per week, which they declined. The only other alternative that was offered was a standard en suite in Green Park House, Bath. The student expressed unhappiness at having to accept the offer, as they are now paying £171 per week to live in a different city.

To counter the student housing crisis, the University of Bristol have offered some prospective students - those on certain courses - a financial incentive to defer their studies until September 2022. The deferral package offered totals compensation of almost £11,000; £7000 to cover student accommodation costs and a bursary of £3,600 in their first year of study. Students have also been promised a guaranteed place on their chosen course, as well as University accommodation, in the academic year 2022/2023.

Although the University have attempted to mitigate the shortfall in accommodation, it could be argued that the promises and offers made do not compensate for the difficulties students have been facing. In a bid to find others facing the same challenges, prospective students have flocked to Facebook groups such as ‘Bristol Uni Housemate Finder’ and formed WhatsApp groups to help each other through the accommodation crisis.

WhatsApp groups have been flooded with messages from students voicing their concerns – not only for where they will be living, but also for their mental wellbeing. In a WhatsApp group of prospective students, Epigram heard from one student that they ‘will be physically in Bath, studying in Bristol, mentally 6ft under’ after being unable to secure a room in University accommodation.’

Students have also raised concerns about the inadequacy of the £500 per term travel expenses bursary, offered by the University to those living outside of the city. It ‘barely covers the train, not the annoyance of being out in Bath which is an hour commute by walking and train’, said one student. Another student cited the instability of their position, saying ‘It’s basically not like having an insurance choice at this rate.’

Images on the left: University of Bristol's accommodation webpage | Excerpts on image above from a Non Guaranteed Undergraduate Students' WhatsApp group / Epigram | Image on the right: Epigram/Lucy O'Neill

Guaranteed students are also said to have faced issues with their accommodation. Epigram was told of how one student with an unconditional offer to study at the University, later found their offer of accommodation in their junk mail, and was not otherwise notified that it had been made available. Offers of accommodation must be accepted within 48 hours, meaning that the student was left without accommodation and advised by the University to seek accommodation in the private housing sector. The student is now considering deferring a year even without an offer of the deferral package.

Student housing crisis or not, it is inevitable that your student accommodation has a huge impact on your social life, from living with your first set of flatmates to meeting others in your student accommodation block. However, students having to live outside of Bristol face a greater challenge of making and maintaining friendships while in a different city altogether.

Mohammed, an incoming Computer Science student, suggested that it might be an unexpected benefit to effectively live in two different cities, but went on to say that ‘this is a situation no first year should have to experience, and the drawbacks could be substantial in the long run.’ He continued that his daily commute to university – either by train to Bristol Temple Meads followed by a long walk or bus journey to campus, or an hour-long bus - will inevitably eat into his time for studying and socialising, meaning that his housing in Bath will have both academic and mental health consequences.

With all consequences considered, the student housing crisis highlights more than ever the sense of a lack of support provided by the University to its students. ‘For the whole saga, you were on your own and the uni didn’t do anything to help you’, Mohammed told Epigram, ‘The uni hasn’t done anything to alleviate your fears or make you feel as if you’re in a space where help is readily available. One of the responsibilities of the uni is to support its students through hardships and there hasn’t been sufficient evidence to convince me that that will be the case.’

‘One of the responsibilities of the uni is to support its students through hardships and there hasn’t been sufficient evidence to convince me that that will be the case.’

The University of Bristol's accommodation webpage states ‘Studying at the University of Bristol has proved very popular this year and there has been an increase in the number of students holding guaranteed offers of accommodation in university-allocated residences. To make sure as many students as possible are offered University-allocated accommodation, we have shared rooms which are suitable for double occupancy.’

Explaining what will be in shared rooms the Uni's accommodation webpage states ‘There will be two separate single beds. We will try to put two of everything into the room but this may not always be possible, but you will have access to study space outside of your room... You will need to sort out sharing the space with your room mate - sharing dorms is usual practise in the USA and there are loads of tips online about getting to know your new room mate and making the sharing arrangement work for you both.’

Featured Image: Images on the left from University of Bristol's accommodation webpage | Excerpts on the image from a UoB Non Guaranteed Undergraduate Students' WhatsApp group / Epigram | Image on the right: Epigram/Lucy O'Neill

What do you think about the housing situation at the University of Bristol?