Nazmush Shahadat had nowhere to stay in London when he arrived from Bangladesh.
He’d been accepted into a law program, but university housing was prohibitively costly, and he couldn’t find a place to live.
According to Mr. Shahadat, things “turned dark really quickly,” and he ended up sharing a two-bedroom flat with 20 other males.
“I never expected to live in a place like that – I still have my scars,” he stated.
He stated it was hard to sleep with many bunk beds crowded into a room with shift workers coming and leaving, and he was frequently attacked by bed bugs.
“The first couple of months, I couldn’t video call my family because I didn’t want them to see how I am living – that’s sad,” he said.
Mr Shahadat currently lives in a shared house and has his own room, but he says finding an inexpensive property in London is incredibly difficult since international students lack the necessary references and pay stubs.
Many have also used their family’s money to finance tuition, with his totaling £39,000 for a three-year study.
“I’ve spent my family’s savings to come here to fulfil my and my parents’ dreams,” he stated.
The government has sought in recent years to boost the number of overseas students at UK higher education institutions.
There were 113,015 international students in the city during the 2015/16 academic year. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), this figure has risen by 59% to 179,425 for 2020/21.
Some London institutions now have more international students than UK students.
Rashavh Kaushik from India is also studying law this year and has found a place to live with friends, but he shares a bedroom with another student.
They had to pay £16,000 ahead for that agreement and obtain a guarantee to secure a spot. “It’s costly for us,” he said.
“Universities are trying to recruit more and more international students, partly because they pay a lot higher fees,” said Nehaal Bajwa of the National Union of Students (NUS), “but it means that some universities are expanding at a rate much faster than the local housing stock can deal with.”
The NUS has advocated for rent limits for students, claiming that international students are especially vulnerable to financial hardship.
“You’re kind of open to exploitation because you don’t know your rights,” said Ms Bajwa.
She went on to say that international students were more likely to accept a house without a contract, pay huge sums of money up advance, or be compelled to accept inappropriate circumstances.
“You might be more tempted if you don’t have a place to live.” “As a result, homelessness is a real threat,” she explained.
Giulia Tortoricei, 19, from Italy, currently lives in a shared house with her friends Maisie and Lidia, although she struggled to find housing in London last year.
“It’s way too expensive – I came here last year without a place to stay.” “It was really stressful because a friend of mine was giving me part of his room for a month before I found a place,” she explained.
It’s not just overseas students who are struggling; students in the UK informed the BBC about their difficulty finding a place to live and dealing with long drives to campus.
According to Savills research, there are presently 3.8 students vying for every bed in purpose-built student accommodation in London, compared to an average of 2.9 across the UK.
Student fundraising Unipol feels there is a need for additional “affordable” housing, particularly for more vulnerable students who may choose dedicated university housing if they are unfamiliar with the region or are from outside.
According to Martin Blakey, the charity’s CEO, such lodging is around 35% more costly than renting a room in a home, so some students wind up spending a large portion of their money on temporary housing in the mistaken belief that they would save money when they locate a house-share.
However, many students run out of money before they can find a place to live, and he claims that by this stage, “quite a significant number of international students were using food banks” and may have to return home.
“It it is really rough at the pointy end of this and people’s dreams quietly fall apart,” said Mr. Blakey.
A representative for the Department for Education (DfE) stated in a statement, “Attracting the brightest students from around the world is good for our universities and delivers growth at home.”
“That’s why we encourage universities and private accommodation providers to consider their accommodation needs and support them accordingly.”
In a statement, institutions UK stated, “The current pressures on the housing market in the UK are felt across society, including by students, and universities are working to alleviate this wherever possible.”
“Universities are experienced in supporting students, and while we strongly recommended that students organise housing before travelling to the UK, any student facing difficulty should contact their university accommodation team as soon as possible.”