A panel of students judging a student accommodation award have refused to pick a winner, claiming that none of the nominees provided student housing that would not “force them into poverty”.
The group of ten students were tasked with judging the Student Experience of the Year category in Property Week’s inaugural Student Accommodation Awards.
But the judging panel, who all study at different UK universities, refused to choose a winner, saying that the high rents and fees charged by nominees were symptomatic of a “for-profit sector” that was “driving the social cleansing of education”.
In a letter to the award’s organisers, the students wrote: “Most entrants priced their cheapest rooms above the national average of £146 a week, and certainly above a level that student maintenance loans will reasonably cover. Many charge rents of more than £300 a week.”
They accused the nominees of charging student tenants £400 in fees and failing to detail these fees on their website.
“Another charges hundreds of pounds to act as a guarantor, profiting from the discrimination of migrants and the inability of poor or estranged students to provide a guarantor.”
Eleven student accommodation providers have been nominated for the Student Experience award.
The student judges criticised the nominees and other accommodation providers for placing shareholder satisfaction over that of students.
“Students are not seeking luxury getaways or cinemas in our living rooms. We are not ‘satisfied’ knowing our student debt is lining the pockets of millionaire shareholders,” the letter continued.
“High rents are driving the social cleansing of education. Working class students are being priced out: unable to access higher education altogether, or forced to work long hours, disadvantaging the poorest.”
The judging panel signed off the letter by demanding providers invest in affordable accommodation and for universities to provide a guarantor service to their students.
“We urge the sector to lower profits, reduce rents and support the call for greater financial support for students in the form of universal living grants,” the students wrote.
“Unless all students have access to safe, affordable accommodation at every institution and the means to pay for it, there is no cause for celebration, nor the ability for us to award a for-profit sector failing so many of our peers.”
The letter has been applauded by many students - a tweet by Jenny Killin, one of the student judges, has already been shared more than 3,000 times.
Killin, a welfare officer at the University of Aberdeen, said: “When we sat down and researched the providers listed, some of the stuff we discovered was just appalling.
“It’s time the student accommodation sector got a wake up call that students are not happy about their despicable exploitation.
“The real ‘student experience’ is too often a choice between paying bills or buying food.
“Asking us to hand out an award when so many students are pushed into poverty makes a mockery of what is a very real crisis.”
Since receiving the letter, the Student Accommodation Awards have removed the Student Experience category from the event.
A spokesperson said: “We completely respect the decision of the judging panel not to make an award in this category.
“Developers and operators of student accommodation strive to produce the very best environment for students but our student judges have sent a clear message that the industry needs to do better.
“Next year we will expand the awards categories and include a category for the best affordable student accommodation. We will continue to encourage the industry to raise its game and put the student experience at the centre of everything it does.”