STUDENTS in Glasgow are planning direct action this week in protest at the “horrific” housing crisis which has left many suffering stress and depression due to sleeping on friends’ sofas or paying “extortionate” rents.

They are calling for the ­University of Glasgow to take more ­responsibility for their plight, which they claim will only get worse if it is not urgently addressed.

A number of students are ­currently being housed by the university in hotels after a complaint was lodged on behalf of 70 students struggling to find suitable accommodation.

Neve McLean, a founder member of the Unhoused Students’ Action Group has been placed in a Premier Inn for a fortnight after hunting for a flat since last April without success.

While she is grateful for a roof over her head at last, she has no laundry facilities and is living off pot noodles heated by the kettle in her room. Her physical and mental health is ­suffering and she has so far attended no lectures because her time, and those of the other members of the ­action group, is being spent helping students in distress.

As an undergraduate from ­England, she is paying £9000 a year in fees but is struggling to see what she is ­receiving in return. 

“I am ill now, I’m not eating properly and my mental health has suffered,” she told the Sunday National. “I have not taken part in any of my studies so far because in the beginning I was too stressed and now the campaign is taking up all my time.

People are ­living in unsafe conditions and breaking their bank accounts to be in the city and they feel very alone. It’s shocking and incredibly disappointing.

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“Universities have some of the top minds in the world so why are the students having to work out solutions to this? They have the ability and the money to put an end to this but they are not doing it.”

McLean, and the other founder members of the group – Lois Bornat, Krishen Chadwick Patel and Safi Everitt – began the campaign because they felt the scale of the problem was not recognised by the university and wasn’t being monitored properly.

“It took three weeks into term for the situation to be labelled an ­‘emergency’, and for emergency ­accommodation options to be ­provided on a mass scale and even then it was only advertised through Twitter and Instagram ­instead of sending an email to all students,” said McLean.

“The only emails they have sent out are the ones just before term started, telling us not to come if we didn’t have anywhere to live. They still have not widely addressed what is ­happening so students feel ­incredibly ­abandoned. Offering hotels and ­calling them emergency accommodation is an admission of guilt and ­responsibility. They do have a duty of care for us but before this we felt they did not care about us at all.”

Last year, the Student ­Representative Council demanded a suspension on student recruitment predicting the problem would worsen and the ­university says student numbers have not risen since then, although the number of beds was increased by 25% in student accommodation for this academic year. The university has said the issue remains because of a reduction in private rentals across Scotland.

In order to find out how many students were struggling, the ­action group put out posters around ­campus asking them to get in touch. They were shocked when they were ­deluged with pleas for help from ­desperate students, which included some paying £1200 for flats in the West End and one woman sharing a hostel room with 13 other people, mainly older men.

“Another group of students are in a flat in extremely dangerous ­conditions with a threatening landlord but cannot risk moving out due to the unlikelihood of finding a new flat,” the group stated in an email to the university.

“We have been in touch with ­several international students in very precarious situations – one is ­currently stuck in China as the ­university has been unable to provide them with accommodation.”

The group said students were ­“living in limbo, in unsafe ­situations, ­struggling to keep up with their ­education, facing extreme ­uncertainty and feeling very abandoned by the University of Glasgow”.

The group claim the issue is ­creating a health crisis as it is having a detrimental effect on students’ mental health and is compromising safety.

“Student anxiety and depression are through the roof,” they said. “Students are unable to take part in their studies for various pressing reasons related to their unstable living situations.

“After the university’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic had such a severe impact on student mental health and was exposed so badly in the media, pastoral care should be at the forefront of the university’s institutional aims more than ever before.”

Furthermore, the students ­accuse the university of refusing to ­recognise that its policies are having an ­impact on the housing market, with the ­number of students looking for ­accommodation being one factor ­driving up rents.

“Currently, the university behaves as if its existence isn’t influential upon the city it calls home,” the group stated. “The reality is that the University of Glasgow participates and assents to a state of economic and social affairs which makes it impossible for many people, locals and students, to call Glasgow home.

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“The university needs to accept part responsibility for this crisis. It is obvious that over the past few years student numbers have increased ­significantly. Lectures are massively oversubscribed. Last year all first-year students were guaranteed ­accommodation, this year this offer was withdrawn.

A change in policy implies a change in the situation. The university claims bed numbers were boosted by 25%, yet this still wasn’t enough and hundreds of first years have had to defer because the university couldn’t house them.”

The students claim numbers have increased from 28,000 pre-Covid to 37,000 this year.

They are demanding the university allocates a team of staff dedicated to the crisis that can give mental health support, financial advice and emergency accommodation services. While the university says support is being offered, the students say there is a “lack of concord” between the different departments.

“We have heard some truly ­harrowing stories and it is not our job as students to provide the care our fellow students desperately in need,” they said. “The University of Glasgow should source these ­professionals as soon as possible.

“Students feel from their ­experience that there is a clear lack of information and strategy being shared across all departments at the university, so one team that is offered to us would provide that stability in support we are looking for.”

They also want the university to draw up a realistic plan to deal with the issue in future and want to be kept informed about it.

A UNIVERSITY of Glasgow spokesperson said: “Regrettably, due to a significant contraction in the private rental market, demand for rooms continues to be substantially ahead of expectation in Glasgow and more broadly across Scotland and the UK. Like most urban universities, we cannot guarantee accommodation for returning students.

“We understand the concern and stress about finding accommodation for the new semester and we want to reassure students that colleagues across the university are continuing to work to find solutions caused by the citywide shortage.

“As part of our efforts, we have increased the number of rooms under university management by 25% for this academic year.

“We have focused – as is our usual policy – on providing accommodation to first-year undergraduate students who live at a significant distance from our campus. There has been no significant increase in student numbers this year.”