Rough sleeping rates are three times higher in uni towns, compared to those without unis

Universities are failing to tackle student homelessness, a new report has said

Universities are not doing enough to monitor and tackle homelessness, both within their own student bodies and also in the wider community, a recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute has found.

Even though students are less likely than people of their age in the general population to experience homelessness, there is a “striking” lack of data on levels of homelessness within the student population raising concerns that “hidden homelessness” such as sofa-surfing may be an underestimated issue.

The report found applications for homelessness assistance were 1.4 times higher in university towns and cities, and rough sleeping is three times greater in these places, as compared to those without universities.

It says the presence of universities in cities causes “significant upward pressure on local housing costs” and “squeezes the supply of lower cost flats and houses.” The proportion of households living in temporary accommodation is also twice as high.

A Master’s student has recently spoken out about their struggle of being forced to attend Zoom classes from a homeless shelter after being evicted, saying “I’m just surviving now.”

Professor Mary Stuart, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lincoln, opened up about her own personal experience of the issue in the report. Stuart and her partner were evicted, meaning she became homeless while pregnant with twins, and was not able to secure council housing until six weeks after she had given birth.

Greg Hurst, author of the report and head of communications and public Affairs at the Centre of Homelessness Impact, wrote that although “universities cannot be a panacea for all of society’s ills” they “could and should ask themselves if they are doing enough to prevent homelessness among their current and recent students.”

The report says widening participation in higher education means also “admitting more people whose past experiences mean they face a higher risk of homelessness”, and warned the cost of living crisis means many will struggle to pay rent as they face higher food and energy costs. This comes after an NUS survey found one in 10 students are now using food banks.

The report puts forward 10 recommendations for universities, including developing targeted support specifically for students experiencing homelessness, conducting research specifically into student homelessness, and tracking housing stability in the student population. It also says unis should incorporating more content on homelessness into curriculums, informed by people who have had experience of homelessness.

Stock image via Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

It says universities have responsibility not just to their own students, but also as significant employers and landlords in their communities. For example, it says almost 80 per cent of university owned land is owned by Oxford or Cambridge colleges. 

Greg Hurst, the author, told The Tab: “Oxford and Cambridge are among the world’s wealthiest and most prestigious universities and yet their cities have significantly higher rates of homelessness than non-university towns and cities of comparable size”. He said these universities should be doing “considerably more” to tackle homelessness.

When contacted, a spokesperson for Oxford University said land ownership statistics refer to “land owned by some of the independent colleges, not the university.” Cambridge University has also been contacted for comment.

The report also says interventions such as “ladling out soup, handing out socks, winter coats or blankets, offering showers or haircuts and even fundraising sleep-outs” may not actually do any good in the long-term.

While “it’s great that so many students want to devote time and energy to tackling homelessness”, Hurst said some volunteering efforts only offer a “marginal short-term benefit” and some “may even have a negative impact.” One of the recommendations suggested was to give students the opportunity to participate in evidence-based volunteering opportunities.

Stock featured image via Unsplash

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