QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY BELFAST OFFERS STUDENTS MONEY NOT TO TAKE UP UNIVERSITY ACCOMMODATION
On Friday 10 September 2021, Robbie Meredith, BBC News NI Education Correspondent, reported that a 12% increase in the number of first-year applications to Queen's University Belfast has resulted in an 'unprecedented' demand for accommodation and over-subscription for rooms in its halls of residence. As a result, the university is offering some students money and other incentives to find alternative accommodation.
Queen's offers students £1,500 not to take up university accommodation
Students at Queen's University (QUB) are being offered a £1,500 deal not to take up rooms in university accommodation.
The university said due to "unprecedented" demand accommodation in its halls was oversubscribed.
It is offering some students who have applied for, or been offered rooms, money to find other accommodation.
The offer includes £1,250 in cash, off-peak gym membership worth about £100 and £150 on their QUB student card.
About 3,500 students each year live in halls of residence run by the university.
A spokesperson for QUB said the demand was "largely because Belfast is attracting a higher number of students who wish to live in the city and demand has been further heightened as a result of the pandemic".
"In particular, Queen's offered extensive support to students, and flexible terms and conditions during lockdowns which has resulted in more students wanting to live in university accommodation for the 2021-22 year," they added.
The QUB halls include accommodation close to the university and in Belfast city centre.
In an email to students giving details of the financial incentive, the university said there had been a 12% increase in the number of first-year applications for Queen's student accommodation versus last year.
BBC News NI understands that is partly down to the fact that should on-campus teaching be restricted at any point, some students feel they are more likely to be able to alter or leave accommodation contracts with universities than private providers.
In October 2020, for instance, QUB offered students who wanted to leave its accommodation an extended rent holiday.
The QUB email said other universities in the UK and Ireland were experiencing similar "over demand".
"We have made strenuous efforts to source a variety of alternative accommodation options but this has proved exceptionally challenging this year," it said.
"In order to reduce the number of students who still need accommodation and help prioritise those most in need, we are launching a £1,500 financial offer to eligible students as an alternative to taking a room in Queen's accommodation this incoming academic year."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said it was aware that "significant numbers of students" had decided to apply for university-managed accomodation this year.
"However, the department has no power to intervene, and does not provide funding for student accommodation, nor has any responsibility to act or intervene in the supply of private rented accommodation," said the spokesperson.
"University-managed student accommodation is a commercial activity for universities, and it is up to them to assess and meet demand."
The spokesperson added that the university was "taking steps to manage the situation".
The financial offer is open to all eligible first year students from Northern Ireland, or the rest of the UK and Ireland, who have applied and met the criteria for university accommodation.
It is also open to students who are not in first year but have been offered a room.
Students who want to give up their room to take the financial offer have been told they have to confirm their decision by Sunday 12 September.
Deposits students have paid towards rooms will also be refunded if they decide to give them up.
'Short-term accommodation options'
However, the university also said it was looking at options for students who wanted short-term accommodation.
"We are aware that some students choosing to take up the offer would still like to have the option of staying in Belfast from time to time to engage in various other parts of the student experience," the QUB email said.
"Therefore, we are working to secure short-term accommodation options close to campus where rooms will be bookable on a bed and breakfast or room-only basis for one or two nights.
"We expect to be able to communicate more information about this in the coming few weeks."
The university said it was "working to secure additional accommodation" with "alternative providers".
"Our priority is to ensure that no student is without accommodation," they said.
"We will engage with all students over the coming week as the position becomes clearer."
But the university also said the allocation of available rooms might have to prioritise those who lived further away from the university or students from outside Northern Ireland who had already booked their travel.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said the council, in its role as planning authority, had supported "significant development" of purpose-built managed student accommodation "within and close to the city centre".
"Since 2015 just over 4,000 bed spaces across 10 schemes have been developed following planning approval, with a further 650 bed spaces currently under construction as part of two further schemes," said the spokesperson.
"An additional 1,650 also have planning consent but have yet to be implemented."