Looking for a place to live can be stressful, but it was especially difficult for one Japanese student transferring from Into this summer.
“[UEA] said they can see I have already applied for a room, but they said I have to wait. But other students had already got a room,” said Katy*. Despite believing she had correctly applied for accommodation, she was simply told to wait whenever she got in touch with the University to ask about its progress.
With national visa delays from the UKBA meaning she could not even reach the UK, Katy called on friends for help. However, confidentiality rules meant they were also unable to find out any information regarding the status of her application.
Once term began, Katy had to stay at a friend’s house when she finally reached Norwich, and find a house with strangers through Home Run. Despite an accommodation guarantee for all international students, she was never officially rejected from UEA accommodation to her knowledge, meaning living arrangements were left until the last moment. Following the experience, she admitted: “My image of UEA has changed.”
Concrete asked UEA accommodation manager Paul Bailey about Into transfer students slipping through the cracks in this.
“It’s really unusual and both admissions and the accommodation office spend quite a lot of time on this. We have sessions actually at Into telling them what to do and taking them round on tours round the residences and through the process, so I’d be really concerned if somebody has fallen through that.”
Union of UEA Students international officer Astrid Heidemann Simonsen explained the difficulties of finding a house for international students.
“It is less of a problem with landlords on the Home Run list, as they usually don’t have requirements such as a UK-based guarantor, which is a huge problem for an international student who often won’t know anyone in the UK before coming here. But there are also other problems, such as not being in the country to go on a viewing, and often not having a UK bank account before you get here.
“There have also been some experiences with landlords stating directly that if they are looking to rent their house quickly, they would prefer a UK tenant, because they find it easier with a native speaker, it will be easier to talk on the phone.”
Every year, there are always students who may be left without on-campus housing for various circumstances – although guaranteed a room if UEA is your firm choice on application (2012/13 was the first year without a guarantee for insurance students), those who come through clearing can also have problems. While the Union’s Home Run and housing advice centre are extremely helpful when finding private housing for these students, it can still be an extremely stressful time.
This year, a demographic shift in science foundation year students meant that there were fewer local and mature students accepted onto the course, meaning 22 students who were guaranteed rooms in UEA accommodation had to be relocated to the private sector.
Similarly, 60 postgraduate international students were housed in Broadview Lodge, where they had to share the Nelson Court common room kitchen. However, they are gradually being relocated by the university.
Addressing the issue, Simonsen said: “The most obvious help that should be given in my opinion is that international students should simply have a higher priority for getting UEA accommodation, as that would overcome all the problems at once. Alternatively, they should at least be told very clearly and very early if they are not going to get a room at UEA, or if they are not certain to get one.
“[…] If any student, international or not, has been clearly guaranteed housing from the university, and does not get it, they are, in my opinion, the university’s responsibility. You simply cannot leave any student on the street or to pay for a hotel themselves.
“We have even had statements from some international students saying that they were considering not coming to UEA at all because finding a room was so stressful. This is completely unacceptable.”
But why is there an oversubscription of rooms ever year, and why hasn’t the problem been solved? Head of admissions David Giles explained that there are always going to be shifts between the number of students offered places and the number who eventually require rooms.
With a drop-out rate between 2-3% and local or mature students who are less likely to stay on campus, it is always necessary to overbook.
“They just don’t all come. We would end up having empty beds every year if [we didn’t], it’s like having seats on a jumbo jet. You always overbook a little bit because you know that there are always going to be people who drop out and don’t come … It all depends on their behaviour really, and also the results they get.”
Although explaining the various events the university put on to try to support international students, Giles said: “We’d really love to have the feedback if there’s things that people think that we could do better. We would always want to make them better I think, from a customer service point perspective, and from helping our students make the transition from their home country to England, UK and UEA.
“We want that to be as welcoming an experience as possible, and if there’s things that we can do better, then please do tell us.”