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The University accommodation office has asked the housing wing of the Students’ Union to find off campus accommodation for over 200 new students in preparation for the coming academic year. Postgraduates, clearing students and those students who did not select Lancaster as their first choice university have all been hit.
With campus accommodation full, Lancaster University Students’ Union raised concerns about the lack of off campus accommodation back in February. Despite this LUSU staff and officers have had to work tirelessly to meet the demand of the new intake. This has meant that LUSU Living, the Union’s housing company, has had to take on new leases, collaborate with landlords and fully furnish brand new properties, all within the few short weeks between A-Level results being released and the start of the new term.
“LUSU housing has effectively been asked to bail out the University”, said LUSU President Robbie Pickles.
With such a shortage of bed space finding suitable housing has been a “monumental task” said Matthew Ward, Manager of LUSU Living. He went on to say: “One house was so run down that we have had to spend £22,000 fixing it up and that is just because there is so little accommodation around that we have had to take anything.”
As of September 23, LUSU Living had managed to secure 60 undergraduate bed spaces and 40 postgraduate bed spaces, with a possibility of another 36 bed spaces that they had acquired that day. By adding to their stock LUSU Living will be able to provide a better service in the future, however with only four members of staff, “in the short term it is a nightmare” said Ward.
LUSU Vice President Equality Welfare & Diversity, Pete McMillan said: “LUSU officers, LUSU Living and members of staff within the University are doing their utmost to resolve any issues that have presented themselves with regards to the first year housing situation.”
Lancaster offered 250 places through clearing which has been seen as a significant cause for the accommodation shortage. Without knowing in advance how many students were coming the University has been unable to prepare for the new intake. This also applies to new postgraduates, whose numbers are only confirmed when they enrol during Freshers’ Week.
Questions have been raised as to why Lancaster had so many clearing spaces and why prospective students did not apply to Lancaster earlier. Antony Marcela, Director of External Linkages, whose job includes marketing and accommodation, resigned on August 17 after the University received the A-Level results on August 16.
“A top ten University should not have any of its courses on clearing. It is embarrassing”, said Pickles.
Nonetheless, Undergraduate Admissions Officer, Heather Willis said: “We have had a very similar number of applications overall this year [in comparison with last year].” However, Lancaster has not had the “significant uplift in applications” that corresponds to the national trend.
External factors have also had a major impact on this housing crisis. There has been an increase in students in Lancaster, both from Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria, and therefore more demand for properties. However, the number of properties in Lancaster has decreased over recent years due to licensing laws and lack of money for landlords to invest in student properties since the recession.
“Compared to three years ago there is about six to seven hundred less bed spaces in the city in comparison to now”, said Ward.
Coupled with the closure of the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside halls which housed 250 students, who have now had to find accommodation in the city, there are “more students, less houses”.
Some freshers are still unaware of where they are living only a week before they are due to arrive.
Just a week before Freshers’ Week, Bowland first year Laura Butlin said: “I still do not know what accommodation I have. The University has not been very helpful or quick. Although, when I went to visit Lancaster, the lady in the housing office was very helpful and nice.”