According to the annual survey conducted by money advice site, Save the Student, the average student has paid £1,621 in rent for empty rooms for which they have not received a refund.
43% of respondents said they had spent less than three months on campus, while just under half said they would have made different decisions about where to live had they understood the impact the pandemic would have on their studies.
As a result, a third are now planning to ask their landlords for a break clause next year to give themselves more flexibility, reports The Guardian.
National Union of Students’ vice-president for higher education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, said: “Students have been consistently exploited and ignored during this pandemic. We are seen as cash cows, with many stuck paying extortionate rents for properties they either cannot use or cannot afford.”
With Save the Student estimating that rent costs take up three-quarters of students’ maintenance loans – an average of £146 per week – frustrations have boiled over on UK campuses with students launching the largest rent strike in 40 years.
Students at the University of Manchester managed to successfully negotiate a 30% rent reduction for the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year after occupying the deserted Owens Park tower on the university’s Fallowfield campus in November.
However, action has been less forthcoming from other universities – as well as private halls of residence and landlords, with the survey suggesting that just a third of students have been offered a discount although that number drops to just 6% of students in private rentals.
On February 14th, 92 students at the School of Oriental and African Studies became the first group to completely withhold the outstanding 50% instalment of their tuition fee payments in protest at their university’s coronavirus response, while a further 1,000 students at the institution signed a petition asking for fee reductions.
So far, the government has provided £70m in additional hardship funding to be allocated to students who find themselves in serious financial trouble due to the pandemic.
Plans for a return to campuses are expected to be announced next week, although there remains the possibility that many students will not be allowed back in person until well I to the spring, with a handful of universities including St Andrews and LSE already announcing that studies will remain online for the remainder of the academic year.
Universities UK said: “Decisions on accommodation costs are a matter for individual universities, taking into account the circumstances at their institutions and of their students. But with the vast majority of students not renting university-owned accommodation, there is an ongoing issue about support for those with contracts in the private sector as well as assistance for non-residential students who have been financially hit by the pandemic.”