Better accommodation will be my first priority as Rector

I’ve been out and about meeting students over the past couple of weeks. And as part of that I’ve been hearing their concerns. I believe Edinburgh is a great University and a fantastic place to study. But there are lots of ways in which it could be better. There are a range of important issues that need to be addressed. The transport links to Easter Bush just aren’t good enough. International student face a range of problems from the gold-plating of Home Office ‘check-in’ regulations to rapidly rising fees. People are very worried about the impact of the £36,000 fees that will be charged to students from the rest of the UK. But the concern most students have raised with me is about accommodation.

Accommodation is important because of the impact it has on all of the student experience. Good University halls can get your stay in Edinburgh off to a great start. Living in a shared flat is a brilliant learning experience. Too often, though, this is spoiled by cynical landlords and a shortage of accommodation provided by the University.

The Rector of the University of Edinburgh enjoys a special privilege. He or she gets to chair the highest decision making body in the University, the Court. The Rector is elected by staff and students to ensure that their views are heard at the highest levels of the University. As part of that I’ve been going to meetings, doing some door-knocking and I’ve got an online survey on accommodation. You can fill the survey in here.

There will also be a question in the coming EUSA referendum to address these important issues.

I’ve heard about private landlords who are taking deposits, despite there being no damage to the flat they’ve let out. Some landlords seem to see this extra money as a perk. In fact it’s a dishonest practice that often deprives students of hundreds of vital pounds. I’m hoping to work with others to create a tenancy deposit guarantee scheme. This will ensure that students get their deposits back unless there is a genuine need for the landlord to repair damage done by tenants. By working with organisations like Edinburgh Council, NUS and Shelter we can make sure that students don’t lose vital cash.

Some of the things I’ve heard have been really surprising. These include students being forced to share rooms in Pollock with a stranger, despite not wanting to. It’s vital that students get the best possible experience in their first year. So finding out that students had been housed in a youth hostel was really disappointing.

The revelation that Masson House is being used as a hotel for businesspeople while students are being housed at the Queen Margaret University Halls in Musselburgh is extraordinary. These halls are nearly over five miles from the University, and so the students living there will inevitably be isolated from student life at Edinburgh University. Businesspeople can be housed anywhere, students should be given priority at Edinburgh University halls.
It’s important that students in University Accommodation are housed in affordable accommodation. I’m keen that students are not placed in accommodation that’s more expensive than that for which they’ve applied. This will reduce the number of students forced out of University Accommodation in first year.

I’ve also heard that students want better recycling facilities in University Accommodation. This is both better for our world, and will save the University money. It should be easy for students to recycle, and I’ve found a level of frustration about the complexity of recycling facilities. Similarly, students need better cycle facilities across the University. It should be safe and easy to lock your bike up both where you live and at your place of study. It would be great if there were more covered bike storage.

You can vote for action on these issues in the upcoming EUSA referendum.

It’s been great to meet students and to be able to hear their concerns. I’m sure there are lots of other things that could be done to improve accommodation for students, and I’ve very keen to hear what those are. So if you’d like to get in contact with me you can email me, or through the survey here. I look forward to hearing from you!

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