Angry judges refuse to crown a winner of student housing awards
Judges of the Student Accommodation Awards have refused to crown a winner, claiming none of the student housing nominees are up to scratch.
Property Week's Student Accommodation Awards have gotten off to a bumpy start this week, as a panel of ten student judges have collectively declined to take part.
The judges, who were hand-picked from unis across the UK, were asked to choose a winner of the category for best Student Experience. However, in an open letter published today, the entire panel have declined on the grounds that none of the nominees offer affordable housing, and judges claim the nominees are contributing to the social cleansing of higher education.
At a time when the UK is experiencing the biggest student rent strike in its history, and reports reveal that rents have risen by 11% this year alone due to a student housing crisis, the decision to dish out awards to student housing providers seems pretty misplaced.
What the judges said
Credit: Sean MacIntee – Flickr
Jenny Killin – a student welfare officer at the University of Aberdeen who was appointed as one of the ten judges – published an open letter to Property Week today on Twitter explaining why all ten student judges were refusing to participate.
Unfortunately, none of the entrants could demonstrate that they are meeting the urgent need of students to live in accommodation that will not force them into poverty.
Most entrants price their cheapest rooms above the national average of £146 per week, and certainly above a level which student maintenance loans reasonably cover. Many charge rents of more than £300 per week.
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. We urge all providers to invest in affordable accommodation so that the future of higher education is open to all, regardless of parental income.
And that's not all they're doing wrong!
Unaffordable rent wasn’t the panel’s only complaint, either. They also pointed out that one of the housing providers who were nominated avoided disclosing fees on their website (which is illegal).
Another company the panel found had been reported for putting disabled students at risk, whilst another was revealed to be exploiting international students or those from lower-income backgrounds by charging them hundreds of pounds to act as a guarantor.
The judges also accused university housing providers of putting private shareholders before the interest of students, and highlighted the distaste of one company boasting in their application of £20 million in revenues (at the expense of struggling students, of course).
Our hats off to Jenny and the rest of the judges for taking a stand on this, and for doing their research into each individual student housing company that was nominated – something that Property Week probably should’ve done before selecting their nominees!
Jenny told the Guardian:
Asking us to hand out an award when so many students are being pushed into poverty makes a mockery of what is a very real crisis.
The real ‘student experience’ is too often a choice between paying bills or buying food. We are getting into huge levels of debt, only so private businesses can make huge profits.
Property Week responded promptly to the open letter, stating that they respect the judges’ decision and that the Student Experience category will be scrapped, and potentially replaced with a 'Best Affordable Housing' category next year.
Here's the letter in full:
I was invited to be a panel of judges for the Student Accommodation Awards.
We refused to select a winner. Our letter to the organisers: pic.twitter.com/7CdF4hQpt8
— Jenny Killin (@Jenny_Killin) October 24, 2016
Have you had a particularly negative experience with your student housing provider? Share your story in the comments below.