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Opinion | The Newport Student Village highlights everything wrong with the University of Bristol’s attempts to tackle the housing crisis.

The University’s oversubscription solutions are comically absurd but the knock-on effects of greedy admissions increases are far from funny.

Newport Student Village

By Adam Johnson, Fourth Year, French and Italian

This year sees the introduction of Newport Student Village as an official accommodation option, upholding what was always supposed to be a temporary fix and demonstrating the greed in the University’s decision to accept more and more students. Their sub-standard solutions to Bristol’s student housing shortage have done little to alleviate the problems and have had far-reaching effects. From the first-year students who are overcharged for chic new halls, to the second and third years vying for a reduced housing stock and the locals they are pushing out, the University’s greed is indiscriminate in its impact.

With universities all over the country hoping to cash in on the ongoing rise in undergraduate applications - projected to reach just shy of 1 million by 2030  - the University of Bristol’s recent attempts to accommodate growing cohorts of first year students have become comically woeful.

The most successful has been the development of expensive city-centre accommodation. Since my arrival in 2020, five new halls have been built in the so-called East Village. Although welcome in reducing demand, the modern decor is tacky, the hallways clinically bright, and prices are as high as the tower blocks themselves. Some lucky undergrads are coughing up £900 a month for a room in Campbell House this year.

Photo by: University of Bristol

This initial attempt at a sticking-plaster solution has, however, quickly descended into farce with the recent announcement that halls will be available in Newport, Wales. There’s history behind this. Students have been housed there to cope with overspill since 2019 – a flatmate of mine in first year had previously taken an emergency gap year, deferring his place to avoid the inconvenience of his offered accommodation in Newport. This was supposed to be temporary, an emergency measure. The fact that the University is now offering this as a choice is insane.

Whilst it does provide a cheaper alternative for those unwilling to fork out for swanky city-centre halls, this just throws up more questions. Why should students on lower budgets be expected to put up with the multitude of downsides that come with living in a different country to their university? How many lectures will be missed from the one-hour commute? What happens to students stuck in Bristol if they miss the last bus home?

All of this is not to mention the quality of the accommodation in the first place – brand spanking new it may be, but its three nearest sites of interest are an industrial estate, the B4237 flyover, and a bingo hall.

These inadequacies bring us to the most pathetic element of the University’s accommodation solution: their attempts to mask their sub-par offerings as reflective of students’ desires. A spokesman for the University highlighted the attractiveness of Newport Student Village’s ‘larger, modern rooms with their own bathrooms’ – an aspect which ‘63% of students say is important’. I wonder what the results of a survey may be asking students about the importance of living on the right side of a national border. Were I a betting man, I’d put my money on it being significantly higher than the spokesman’s figure.

A standard room in Newport Student Village. Photo by University of Bristol

As the amount of first year students rise, and the means to accommodate them - and thus charge them - is made possible through the University’s new developments (in Bristol or otherwise), very little consideration goes into what options are on offer for students leaving halls in second year. Without a similarly expanding housing stock, the already densely packed neighbourhoods of Redland, Cotham and St Pauls have become more and more in demand, with prices rising extortionately. Finding housing has always been a stressful task but the University’s continued policy of accepting oversubscription has exacerbated this stress, flushing the market with desperate second years, who have already had to pay an arm and a leg in their first year.

Just as the University profits from their outrageous accommodation options, in turn landlords and letting agencies squeeze students for all they’re worth. I should know - I worked for Digs as a property viewer in my second year. Stories abound of viewings with 10 other potential tenants or deposits even being paid before said viewings. My second year letting agency (not Digs - I may have worked for the devil but I certainly wasn’t going to rent a flat from him) told me and my flatmates at the end of our contract in 2022 that the landlord was upping the rent and wanted to know whether we’d be staying - but wouldn’t tell us the increase.

Landlords getting away with murder is not solely a student experience. The more flats we take up, the more locals get priced out of their own neighbourhoods. Of course, the housing crisis is a national issue, and much of Bristol’s shortage is also caused by Londoners and those from the South East being priced out in turn and finding relative refuge in Bristol. Regardless, the impact of students in this population turnover is not to be underestimated: how many times have you heard a proper Bristolian accent in Clifton?

It is worth noting that housing is also not an issue exclusive to the University of Bristol – first year students at the University of the West of England Bristol will this year be offered accommodation in Cheltenham, even further from the city than Newport is, whilst University of Glasgow students whose home is within one hour of campus may not be offered any accommodation at all. Student housing is at an impasse on a national scale, and the greed of universities in chasing higher admissions and the revenue they bring is largely to blame.

But not to worry, at least Unite have provided a karaoke room in Campbell House for first years to shriek ABBA songs into the microphone whilst they haemorrhage cash straight into the Uni’s pockets.

It’s a rich man’s world indeed.

Featured image: University of Bristol

What do you think of the introduction of Newport as official University accommodation? How would you feel if you were living in a different country to your University campus? Get in touch @Epigrampaper