Go home: Students ousted after international accommodation guarantee breaks down

Students have had to return home, being told to defer or continue their studies online, after the University failed to house incoming international students.

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illustration of an international student

International students have been left with no accommodation, despite an initial guarantee from the Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary, David Duncan. Students have alternatively been instructed to not travel to Glasgow and to instead consider deferring. In an email sent out to all students on 27 August by Duncan, he assured students that "the University guarantees accommodation for all first-year and international students". This was then followed by an email from Team UofG on 9 September, just three days before freshers' week, that "strongly advised [students] do not travel to Glasgow until [they] have booked accommodation".

The Glasgow Guardian has spoken to Hannah*, a master's student from the US, who has been implicated in the accommodation crisis. Despite the initial guarantee from Duncan, and the subsequent, yet contradictory, email from Team UofG, Hannah was told by University-provided international student advisors that she should find accommodation when she arrived in Glasgow. Following this advice, and upon arriving in Glasgow on 7 September, she had nowhere to live, given the city's housing problems. Spending a week in an Airbnb, Hannah sought help from SRC staff, who told her that "she was lucky to even have that". This experience led Hannah to return home. 

However, prior to doing so, she contacted "12 university administrators" in an attempt to rectify the situation. One of these was David Duncan, who said he would respond with further information and yet "never did". Another was Robert Partridge, Executive Director of Student and Academic Services, who she describes as "gaslighting her into thinking there is no issue". She told The Glasgow Guardian: "We were just going around in circles. He was rude and dismissive of the situation". In correspondence with Partridge, the University Executive told Hannah that "there were, in fact, emergency rooms in university accommodation and at hotels around Glasgow", however, this information was not mentioned in the mass email, and was neither provided to Hannah when she attended accommodation services in person. Commenting on her dealings with the University administration as a whole, she stated: "It is hard to believe the lack of organization, awareness, and remorse they’ve shown throughout the process… It bothers me that they don't take responsibility." 

The Glasgow Guardian has also spoken to Matthew*, a master's student from the US who received the instruction not to travel from Team UofG the day he arrived in Glasgow. He has recently found accommodation outside of Glasgow but has been "frustrated" by the University's handling of the situation after spending the start of term in a hotel: "To say "we’ll just let it play itself out, and however students end up dealing with the situation is an individual matter", I think, is malpractice as an academic institution. There are undergraduate students that are trying to return to Glasgow from different countries and couldn’t. The University of Glasgow is aware and promotes Glasgow as part of its draw, and we don’t have access to that."

In response to a request for a comment, a UofG spokesperson said: “We understand the concern students have about finding accommodation for the new semester and we appreciate that searching for a flat is daunting.

“As part of the process to offer accommodation for first-year undergraduates and postgraduate students who are new to study in Glasgow we have worked with students to offer them somewhere to live. Unfortunately this year, that has proved extremely difficult, the impact of Covid on grades and demand is unprecedented, and we are sorry for any disruption to the start of any student’s year."

The University assured students that “deferring studies for international students until such time as there is accommodation available in the city has been just one option offered by the University, along with studying remotely". Although online learning has been offered by the University it has been up to the individual students to ensure that this is in place for their course and make arrangements with the course leaders. Whilst Hannah said that her "Professors have been great" she would have hoped the University "had a plan to prorate online tuition but nothing had been set up". 

The Glasgow Guardian asked current rector Rita Rae for a comment on the ongoing situation. She said: "This year the University has struggled to meet [the] guarantee because of unprecedented demand (primarily related to school exam results inflation but compounded by January-January lets and, perhaps, landlords withholding accommodation for use during COP26). The University has worked hard to find solutions for all students struggling to find accommodation. If a particular student wants to approach me directly about the issue then I am prepared to see that student and take the matter forward". 

*For the purposes of anonymity, names have been changed.

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