“By failing students, the wider economy suffers”, says Lydia Jones, CEO and Founder of Housemates. Here she provides insight into how badly students have been affected by the pandemic and how the lack of government funding has negatively impacted student accommodation operators
University students have been one of the hardest hit demographics of the pandemic. Students are having to deal with the deep physical and psychological impacts of COVID-19; losing family members and friends to the virus, losing jobs with often no protection from existing schemes, missing out on internships and placements, feeling isolated and disconnected from teaching staff, coursemates and friends, not having access to facilities, a chaotic shift to online learning due to little notice and uncertainty about future prospects. This sordid picture of their experience marks a colossal failure in the Government providing for their unique needs.
A flawed strategy
Whilst the recent £50 million cash injection from the Government was a start, it was nowhere near enough to prevent long-term damage to our higher education sector, with a cross-party group of MPs calling for this support to be in the region of £700 million. Students across the UK are suffering from the stress of having to pay for unused student accommodation and their massively disrupted education, whilst in many cases having their income from retail and hospitality work or family support reduced, as well as often being described as irresponsible, immature or childish, with some institutions suggesting they should treat lockdown as a ‘retreat’.
Yet, they leave their homes to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to make a life choice and commitment to education. They are then asked to sign contracts and take on huge debts and legal liabilities. It is unacceptable for them to be treated differently from other consumers, especially when they are crucial to the future of our economy and need urgent support to enter the working world. It is critical now for the Government to step up and provide the financial support that students and accommodation providers need. Students now are our economy of the future, and they will remember how they are treated during this pandemic.
The fund is simply not enough to support a spectrum of students’ current challenges and universities will hold the purse strings, so some people are inevitably going to miss out on support. Many students are renting, for instance, through private student accommodation off campus, and are being forced to pay hundreds of pounds a month for accommodation they cannot return to for the remainder of term. The government’s latest announcement asks all providers of student accommodation to make sure their rental policies have students’ best interests at heart and are communicated clearly, but this is vague and doesn’t support private operators who still need support to pay their own bills and investors if students aren’t paying them.
Beyond the effect on their studies and careers, with the hotel quarantine rule now introduced in the UK, international students are having to pay thousands of additional pounds to resume their education. Once again, this demands addressing if the UK wants to continue to maintain its reputation as the most attractive university provider to students from abroad.
Save our Students
The pandemic has highlighted a strong need for better, more flexible accommodation booking solutions for students and accommodation operators alike, and that is what Housemates is providing. Students want to book their accommodation quickly and easily online, just as they would purchase clothes or order a meal. This demand has driven our mission to innovate the system as it stands and power a global ecosystem of platforms, operators, students and partnerships with our booking engine and powerful data insights.
Through the platform, accommodation operators will be in a far better position to bounce back by increasing their conversion rate and speed, improving occupancy management, and making the booking experience simpler and safer for all. This comes just in time following the Government’s newly announced roadmap out of lockdown coupled with the latest UCAS figures suggesting an 8.5% increase in applications overall, with particular growth in interest for degrees like Nursing and also a 17% increase in non-EU applications.
Current students hold the key to our economic future, and unless they receive sufficient support from our government, alongside a transformation of a system that hasn’t always served them, they will remember how they have been treated in years to come and the entire higher education sector stands to suffer as a result. The opportunity to transform the system to work for all is there for the taking so a united step forward is the best chance we have, let’s take it.
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