By Olivia Smith
How students are exploited to live at university
University students are often exploited to live on campus or near their university of choice and this is due to high rent costs and poor standard of accommodation.
I have had issues with accommodation at Brunel for the first term of university. Because I am a disabled student, I was housed in a disabled access room on campus suitable for my needs. I was housed in Stockwell hall, which £152 per week (rounded down). This is in comparison to some students who pay as low as £114 (rounded down) per week or as high as £187 (rounded down) per week for a similar room on campus.
I know that this is London and all rates are London rates, but this doesn’t excuse this university charging sky-rocketing prices for a bedroom, en suite bathroom and shared kitchen. I am lucky in the sense that I only have to share with 3 other people, rather than the usual 8-9 people in one flat.
The issues I had started from the moment I moved in, in September. The room is lovely and spacious, and I was thrilled – the bathroom is also similarly large and gives me a lot of room to move. The kitchen is smaller than most of the other flats, but it is big enough to accommodate 2 boys and 2 girls.
However, I soon noticed that the bathroom was not quite right. The water would fill the entire bathroom floor every time I had a shower, so I reported it immediately via the Planon app which all students use to report any faults in their accommodation.
Over the next 6 weeks the bathroom situation got progressively worse, eventually flooding into my bedroom, which caused me enormous stress. I was then moved into an alternative room that didn’t meet the needs of my disability. The contractors started the work on my bathroom which took 4 and a half weeks instead of the 2 weeks they originally estimated me.
The work was then completed, and I was moved back into my original room. During this time my mental health declined significantly, due to lack of communication and slow progress of the work, which led me to suicidal thoughts and counselling.
I was offered compensation which I declined as I felt was not nearly enough for the trauma they had put me through both physically and mentally. I also launched a formal complaint which I am now in the process of appealing.
I feel that Brunel should have better systems in place to deal with such major issues. They should have a checklist to avoid spending a lot of money on work that is unnecessary, and that causes stress to students. I believe that they should improve their knowledge and understanding of disabilities and how they can affect students, so they know how to adapt. They should also update their accommodation regularly.
Accommodation could do a lot to help their students, this can range from simple tasks such as effective communication and building a good rapport with students to bigger options, such as checking everything is working and is provided in all rooms as soon as students leave at the end of their contract.
They could also update all fixtures, fittings, furniture (if worn over time) and furnishings (such as carpets) every 5-10 years, dependant on damage, to ensure students are consistently getting an adequately ‘home’ area to live in. It is fundamental for the university to learn about individual student needs when necessary to be able to help them when a problem arises.