Summer never sleeps in student accommodation

When the students break up for summer, that’s when things hot up in the accommodation office, says Karen Burke, chair, Association of Student Residential Accommodation

As the summer term ends and our students move out, a university town or city can seem eerily quiet without them. But the end of an academic year for many of us working in student accommodation is a busy time, responding to some of the unintended consequences that arise at this time, such as the build-up of unwanted items and deep cleans.

So, while shops and public areas both on and off campus are now maneuverable and lunch queues shorter and there is a brief interlude of people calling into reception, the calls soon begin again, and I’m sure the following will be all too familiar…

  • When will I get my deposit back?
  • I’ve been charged for damage… I didn’t do it.
  • I have signed for a house and I don’t want it as I’ve found somewhere else
  • I have fallen out with my housemates I am due to move in with
  • How can I get out of my contract?

That’s just the students who are moving out – now what about the new starters? Clearly, this is a new and exciting time and it’s vital that we are there to support students (and sometimes the parents) through this and ensure that this is a positive experience.

The annual cycle of results starts almost as soon as the term ends and results for Access courses/ Scottish Highers/BTecs/A-levels… start coming through. So, what is the summer really like for staff in the world of higher education and further education? It’s a popular misconception among those working outside the sector that we take the entire summer off. Not the case.

While it remains that the number one factor in applying to a certain university is the actual academic course, accommodation is becoming an increasingly significant factor. So, for new first year students and their parents, this is when the panic can begin to set in… and it’s vital that staff are equipped with the skills and knowledge to respond to a myriad of queries.

If you’re lucky, as we are at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), then you will be involved in the Clearing and Confirmation meetings. The allocations process which we deliver at SHU starts in February with returning students and unconditional offers.

Competing for accommodation

We are all now in an increasingly competitive world, and student accommodation is no exception. I sometimes compare it to the Next sale… panic buys and then returns!

But then when it comes to applying for accommodation, the questions are numerous – and some bizarre – and make us giggle and keep us sane through this frenetic time of year. So, here are just a few:

  • Can I apply to live with my eight friends?
  • Does the flat have an ironing board?
  • What colour are the carpets and curtains?
  • How far is it from my bedroom to the kitchen? In paces?
  • Is a bird considered a pet?
  • Can I have a south-facing room?
  • Can I have a sea view? Unlikely, Sheffield isn’t on the coast!
  • Could I have an allotment within the halls of residence?

I am sure colleagues have many more to add to the list and between us we could write a book that would be an interesting read!

When we get closer to the move-in weekend, we prepare for the traffic chaos and logistics of drop-offs. This is all the entire responsibility of those working in student accommodation… Oops, she says to herself and wonders how I can remind the city how much income students bring in and how much more vibrant the area becomes post September!

So, summer is now over and the trials and tribulations forgotten for another year, and so the cycle begins for another year.

Now where is that notebook I said I would write my memoirs in!


To find out more about ASRA, visit: www.asra.ac.uk