• Tuesday, December 05, 2023

HEADLINE STORY

South Asian students in the UK struggle for accommodation

By: Nadeem Badshah

MORE students from south Asia are living in overcrowded housing in the UK due to a rising demand for beds, which campaigners criticised as a “shameful indictment of our education system”.

In one case, a student from Bangladesh was sharing a two-bedroom flat with 20 other men in London.

On average, 3.8 students are chasing every bed in purpose-built student accommodation in London, compared to an average of 2.9 across the UK, according to analysis from estate agents Savills.

Groups representing students have called for rent controls to stop some landlords from allegedly exploiting people from overseas.

Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing, Southall in west London since 2007, is working with the charity Generation Rent to help tenants lobby government. He told Eastern Eye: “Overcrowding in housing is a serious problem for many people.

“If a landlord allows their tenancy to become overcrowded, they are breaking the law,” he said.

“The government has promised the Renter’s Reform Bill, but sadly they still haven’t brought it forward.

“We need it to address the terrible housing people find themselves in, and we need building to build the houses society needs.

“If you are a student, speak to your university, your student union or campaign groups like NISAU, National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, a group I am proud to be a patron of if you need help.”

The number of international students in the UK has soared in recent years. In 2021- 2022, there were 679,970 foreign students studying at higher education institutions. Chinese students made up the largest group with 151,690 studying in the UK, followed by 126,535 students from India.

India (142,848) was above China (107,670) as the nationality with the highest number of granted study visas with an increase of 122,481 in 2021-2022, compared to 2019.

Nehaal Bajwa, the Nation Union of Students’ vice president for liberation and equality, said many international students are forced to pay their total rent for six months or a year up front, putting them more at risk of being forced to live in uninhabitable conditions.

Bajwa told Eastern Eye: “It’s a shameful indictment of our education system that students are having to take increasingly desperate measures to find a place to live while they study.

“Student halls are oversubscribed and the private rental market in towns and cities across the country has reached crisis point.

“International students are already charged extortionate tuition fees and are limited by their visas in the number of hours they can work to supplement their income.

“For years, the hostile environment pursued by successive governments has ensured they have limited access to getting a guarantor’s letter and find it much harder to access financial support.

“We need rent controls to stop landlords exploiting students, and we need government to resist the lobbying of landlords seeking to water down the protections offered to students by the Renters Reform Bill.”

Fizza Qureshi, CEO of the Migrants’ Rights Network charity, said: “International students have been facing the same pressures of having to deal with rising rents, unscrupulous landlords, and the lack of a safety net including little to no support from their universities. This means some students are faced with moving into accommodation that is not fit for habitation or is overcrowded and unsafe.

“We need the government to address the renting and housing crisis properly, but we also need universities to step up and support their students, especially as they rely heavily on international student fees to keep them afloat.”

Nazmush Shahadat, from Bangladesh, shared a flat with 20 other men while doing a law course in London.

He said: “I never expected to live in a place like that – I still have my scars.

“The first couple of months, I couldn’t video call my family because I didn’t want them to see how I am living – that’s sad.”

A spokesperson for the London Renters Union said universities have developed a business model that relies on charging international students high fees and rents while shirking responsibility for the living conditions of those who cannot afford to live in extortionate student accommodation.

“Many black and brown students face discrimination when trying to access housing, made worse by hostile environment policies like Right to Rent.

“The lack of affordable homes force people to accept dangerously overcrowded or poor-quality conditions and many fear speaking out against mistreatment for fear of revenge eviction.

“Those who do speak out find themselves waiting years for councils to hold landlords accountable for profiting from dangerous homes.

“In the long run, we need the government to invest in public housing and regulate against unfair rent increases to take the pressure off those trapped in our wild west private rental system.”

Universities UK said institutions are experienced in supporting students and while it strongly recommends that students organise housing before travelling to the UK, anyone facing difficulty should contact their university accommodation team as soon as possible.

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