£9,000 a year but nowhere to live: Students speak out on university accommodation crisis

Olivia Tollerson shared her story with ITV News' Zahra Errami

"I had sleepless nights, every morning I’d be checking my emails like ‘have I got my accommodation?"

Like many students this week Olivia Tollerson started university, but what should have been a journey of excitement and anticipation of moving into new halls and meeting new friends, has instead been fraught with anxieties and challenges.

"I was speaking to the university, I was speaking to people in accommodation, I was speaking to people in admissions – I spoke to everyone and I was like ‘please, please, please I need to know for my own mental health at this point.'"

Like many, she went through the clearing process, after missing out on her first choice of studying psychology at Manchester University.

She was offered a place through clearing to study psychology at the University of West England.

Olivia was excited to start her university experience at Bristol, applying for her accommodation straight away after she was accepted.

"I’d had the tick on UCAS and been told congratulations you’ve got your place but then I was told, it’s up to you – it's your job to find your accommodation."

After calling and calling for weeks and making multiple enquiries for an update on her application she began to feel anxious and frustrated about the situation, with only a few weeks before her course was due to begin.

"I was really unsettled, I was by myself, and I had people saying take a gap year, look for a job – when for the past two years I’d been working to get to university.

"Everywhere had places on courses – but nowhere had accommodation, and in my mind to have to re-direct my entire future on the basis of ‘someone hasn’t properly worked out the numbers here.'"

"I just thought that that was really unfair."

She soon found out that she wasn’t the only one feeling like this. Comments on a TikTok video she posted warning other students blew up – and she was inundated with comments from people across the country facing the same struggle.

Some of the messages from students complaining about the lack of student accomodation. Credit: ITV News

Some students said a similar accommodation problem was happening at the University of Manchester, where some students were offered accommodation in neighbouring cities, miles away from campus.

Others claimed they had even been offered money to give up their accommodation in halls.

And this was clear on Facebook too, where students were tirelessly looking for private house shares, which were often too expensive or very scarce in the area.

Olivia, who’s been diagnosed with ADHD, had submitted details of her condition to the university in the hope that they could help in her quest to find accommodation, but was met with the same response.

"Having a university turn round and say, not only are we not taking your needs into consideration – we’re also going to tell you to find your own accommodation, which as someone who struggles with organisation, who’s going through clearing – that's the last thing I needed."

The University of West England eventually offered Olivia a room in Newport, Wales where she’d have to travel almost an hour into Bristol to attend lectures.

In a statement to ITV News, they said a high volume of applications for accommodation this year led to oversubscribed on-campus halls.

"We are sorry the student was unable to find suitable accommodation to study at UWE Bristol and was disappointed by the support they received in seeking housing in the city.

"Bristol has become an increasingly popular city to live in. This, combined with the increasing demand for university places and the rise in the cost of living, has placed additional pressure on our accommodation and the rental market.

"Due to a high volume of applications received for accommodation this year, our on-campus halls became oversubscribed by early June.

“The University supports students without accommodation by working with the Students’ Union to provide them with resources to help secure suitable rooms.

“Our housing waiting list has now reduced significantly, with the vast majority of our students settled in their accommodation for this academic year.”

Olivia decided rather than waiting any longer, to re-enter the clearing process and has accepted a place at Swansea University to study psychology, and after a much shorter wait was given for accommodation in halls.

"You have this idea of universities as these prestigious institutions and that they’ve got all these different courses and you can do such great things – but I’d never thought that accommodation would be an issue.

"Surely, I’m not paying nine grand a year to not have accommodation, when that’s a priority, it’s where somebody lives, it’s their security, it’s their home – and I didn’t have that security for a very long time."

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