Universities are keen to enhance the student experience in all regards and since many students spend a large part of their time within accommodation, this is a focus for interest. Most British higher education institutions try to provide hall-type accommodation for all new students who request it via a mix of owned, managed and partnership beds. However, relatively few institutions provide a significant number of beds for students in the later years of their courses.
All new LJMU students are guaranteed a bed for their first year in a hall owned by one of our approved private accommodation partners. In 12 of the 13 halls that we currently use, they can also stay for later years of their programme if they wish. An increasing number take up this option but many still choose the ‘traditional’ private rented sector (PRS) for at least one year. There are clear advantages to this sector – cost, obviously, but it can be argued that valuable life skills are learnt more easily in a shared house than in the protective environment of a hall.
However it can also be argued that the ability of universities to provide welfare and personal support to their students is reduced when they choose to live in the PRS. As Karen Burke reminded us in a recent article, landlord accreditation schemes play an important role in raising standards within the PRS. Recent research published by the NUS – ‘Homes fit for study’ – has also highlighted the important role of accreditation.
Liverpool has a well-established accreditation scheme called Liverpool Student Homes (LSH) which was founded in 1993, at roughly the same time as similar schemes in Manchester and Leeds. LSH is a partnership between the three universities in the city: LJMU, the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University, plus our respective Students’ Unions. LSH has built a solid reputation within the city and established excellent relations with key agencies, including Liverpool City Council. Indeed, the manager of the Council’s Landlord Accreditation Scheme (CLASS) is a full voting member of the main LSH committee.
Many accreditation schemes (including LSH) have adopted a joint agency approach to tackling anti-social behaviour in the community by a minority of students. Unfortunately the ability of councils to respond to this behaviour and also to address poor standards of management by a few bad landlords has been undermined by recent cuts to housing and environmental health budgets. It is perhaps understandable that some councils view selective licensing of landlords as one possible remedy, given that there is money available from central government to pay for such schemes.
LSH is not convinced that the proposed introduction of city-wide selective licensing in Liverpool will have the benefits being claimed. Instead it may penalise good landlords and increase costs for our students without having any noticeable impact on the quality of housing. Councils across the country would be wise to recognise that where accreditation schemes exist, these should be supported and promoted to landlords as the best way forward for driving up standards within the student housing sector.
Ed Naylor is Student Accommodation Manager at Liverpool John Moores University and Co-Chair of Liverpool Student Homes. He is also a member of the Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA). www.asra.org.uk