When someone considers pursuing a law degree in the UK or undertaking a legal professional course, they invariably think about the academic challenges that they will face in a new environment. However, the financial considerations that need to be made can often pose an even greater problem.
It is well known that living expenses in the UK are astronomical for students from developing countries, particularly for those who live in London. As a result, many students, both local and international, have to take on part-time jobs alongside their studies – an issue that I will address in a future post. Focusing on housing in particular, student accommodation in the UK is the greatest burden on a student’s finances. For those who are not fortunate enough to have housing provided for them by their University or academic institute, they have to seek alternate, private accommodation. As you can imagine, many BPTC students, especially international students, are in such a position as the providers do not have their own halls. The same goes for those who are pursuing qualifications as Chartered Accountants or MBAs or have simply been rejected from University Halls. Landlords are well aware of this vast, vulnerable market and many have not been above exploiting it.
Just such an issue has been raised by Penny Anderson in her Guardian article “The sorry state of student housing“, partially excerpted below:
Private blocks now dominate the market for student housing, so clearly there is money to be made. Unite, which builds and runs many of the new blocks springing up across the UK, list its share price and investment opportunities with equal prominence next to shots of happy students. Many private providers boast of a detailed “welcome pack” (basic essentials of crockery and cutlery) alongside eye-poppingly enormous rents of about £180 a week for a tiny bed/study/dining/everything room. Some charge as much as £349 a week. I am not making this up.
Look around any city with a university, and you will notice similar student blocks springing up like boils. They are more lucrative than “apartments” as developers can cram in layers of minuscule cabins rather than space-devouring individual flats. A friend’s accommodation had walls of exposed cinder blocks. I’ve seen one proposed development that seemed to be made of containers.
Though I do not agree with her contention that ‘having a double bed’ is the most essential requirement for a student, some of the other concerns that she has raised about the quality of student living are valid. I have had friends in London who have had to unfortunately live in tiny flats above paint shops and off-licenses, where they had to dine on the floor of their corridor due to a lack of communal space and where their roof caved in at the end of the year – all because it was the most affordable flat close to their Universities. (EDIT: said friend would like me to emphasise that the roof didn’t so much cave in but instead came smashing down after the sewer pipe broke and drained through plaster to shower one of the rooms with liquid plaster and excreta) Even those who found University halls, despaired at the bleak, Kafkaesque dorms that they were provided at a cut-throat price, where the rooms had minimal furnishings, the food was pallid and human contact was non-existent.
Further confirmation of this is provided by the accommodation survey conducted by Student Beans of 2000 UK students: Student Houses – mouldy, infested and dangerous. I really recommend reading the article in full as it has some great tips on eviscerating mould and pests from any accommodation you acquire as well as advice on ensuring its safety from criminals and unscrupulous landlords. One excerpt from the article really stands out:
After returning back to the house in January to find that a leaking pipe had forced a ceiling to cave in (nightmare number one), Sophie pushed her duvet up against the radiator to dry it out. A week later, she noticed that a huge chunk of her duvet was missing thanks to a family of mice who had set up shop in her room (nightmare number two)! If that wasn’t enough to deal with, those living in the house were left by their landlord to deal with the issue of getting rid of the mice themselves – not the easiest job, as anybody who has ever suffered an infestation will know.
Such exploitation of students, particularly international students, has been going on for decades now. In A Portrait of Lincoln’s Inn at the bottom right hand corner of page 92 there is a miniature colour sketch of a building that had been proposed in the 1960s (by Lord Denning of all people!) to lodge overseas students who, according to a report by the Inns, had to ‘eke out a penurious existence in lodgings’ where they were ‘subjected to undesirable social influences’. While it is often perceived in the UK that overseas students are incredibly wealthy, this is often not the case and many have to struggle to secure the money needed for an adequate standard of living.
A solution is desperately needed for such a housing crisis. In the case of those on the BPTC, the Inns and the Providers need to consider the living conditions their students are inhabiting and take a more pro-active role in securing affordable, clean and comfortable housing. In the short term, they need to provide more extensive and personalised housing advice but in the long term, they should seriously develop the idea of building their own dorm(s) that are affordable for students.
In the meantime, maybe more people should take a leaf out of the book of another one of my friends, who bought a houseboat at the beginning of his undergraduate life for a price lower than that paid by the average London student for 3 years dorm rent. He found that living in a houseboat on Regent’s Canal (coincidentally, by the Guardian building!) was cheaper, more convenient and ultimately, more enjoyable than living in the dismal student quarters currently available.