The University has offered to release returning students with places in halls of residence from their accommodation contracts because of concerns about the availability of accommodation for first year students.
An email sent to all returning students who had received a place in a hall said: “We are aware that some students who have already accepted places have subsequently had the offer of places within private flats and may prefer to pursue that option. Under normal circumstances we would not release students from their contractual obligations to the University, however due to the unique circumstances of reduced capacity and strong demand anticipated from entrant students, we will this year.”
The current University accommodation terms and conditions state that under normal circumstances contracts can only be cancelled within seven days of accepting an offer. After seven days “you will be liable for the rent during the entire period of licence, including catering costs, if applicable.” For this academic year, a limited number of students will be given the opportunity to be released from these regulations, allowing some of those who accepted University accommodation to choose private flats or houses instead.
The email from the University continued: “The offer will be limited and will be administered on a first come first served [basis] until such time as the requisite number of vacant places has been achieved and may therefore be withdrawn at any time.”
The University has committed to guaranteeing accommodation for all new undergraduate students, but an overall rise in the number of students has made it increasingly difficult to ensure all entrants are provided with their preferred accommodation. In the academic year 2009 to 2010, 1,395 undergraduate students were admitted to the University. This year, 2013 to 2014, the intake of undergraduate students had risen to 1,540. The number of UCAS offers made over this period also increased from 5,075 to 5,802. This gradual increase in first year students over the last five years has not been matched by an increase in accommodation, which may place further strain on halls of residence.
These increases have led to some students being placed into temporary or previously unused rooms. At the beginning of this academic year, a number of first year students were temporarily placed in Eden Court, a residence which had been reserved for postgraduate students. Others, such as Hannah Kilmas, were placed in rooms that had not been advertised on the University website. Ms Kilmas was offered a place in Andrew Melville Hall as requested but her room included an en suite. The room cost £5,751 for a year’s single catered accommodation, over £1,000 more than the price quoted by the University’s website for a single room in Andrew Melville of £,723. No en- suite options are listed on the website. After Ms Kilmas’ story appeared in The Saint, she was offered an alternative room but turned this down given the proximity of the start of term.
In 2012 the University decreased the number of accommodation offers it made to returning students in order to allow more space for entrants. However, this led to many students struggling to find accommodation and an emergency meeting had to be held to help.
Additionally, the redevelopment of Fife Park from May this year will see a loss of 162 beds. This means that during the next academic year there will be an overall reduced capacity. When it was revealed that the long-awaited redevelopment of the 40-year-old houses would begin this summer, the University promised that contingency plans would be put in place. The move to release some students from their contracts is one of the precautionary measures for the upcoming academic year to try to ensure students are not affected by the loss of beds. The new Fife Park will have over 300 beds and a range of different accommodation.
A University spokesperson explained the reasoning behind the decision to release some returning students from their accommodation contracts: “For the coming academic year residential capacity will be reduced due to the redevelopment of Fife Park, and the University is considering a range of measures to ensure all qualifying undergraduate entrant students are guaranteed accommodation. This remains a firm commitment.
“While the actual number of entrant students likely to take up places at St Andrews will not be known until later in the year, contingencies are being taken now as a precaution. Funds have been made available to bring unused capacity back into operation, and the capacities of operational residences are being reviewed to identify any other unused, available accommodation. In addition, any returning students who have recently taken up an offer of University accommodation and wish to reconsider their decision have the opportunity to be released from their contract. Within the first week of this opportunity being declared there has been an encouraging response.
“The University will continue to monitor the situation to determine what, if any, additional measures may be necessary to ensure that all students are able to find accommodation for the forthcoming academic year.”