Accommodation: Are some students being overlooked?

[Kealie Mardell & Brad Johnson | Editor & Deputy Editor]

With new accommodation developed at the university as part of the Estates 2020 Vision, Trident Media can reveal that some students are being housed in out-dated off campus accommodation. While it was previously believed that students would no longer be housed in Ridgeview Lodge, at the time of writing there are 90 students living there, with others also placed in local hotels this year.

The University of Hertfordshire advertises its accommodation on de Havilland and College Lane, but it is lesser known that there is also off-campus accommodation in London Colney. With previous plans to close Ridgeview put on hold, students are still living in Halls of Residence which fall short of the luxuries and amenities of those of Coales, Butler, or Fern Hall.

On the university’s accommodation website, a price was listed in 2013/14 for Ridgeview, but with no price listed to 2014/15 it appeared that the university did not intend to have students living there this year.

Dean of Students, Ross Renton, responded over email to UniVerse. He said that the use of Ridgeview, “formed part of our contingency planning, which was implemented in response to the level of demand during Clearing.” He also noted that many other universities have off-campus accommodation. According to Renton the students in Ridgeview, “either made this their choice, applied to the university between 15-31 August or arrived in the UK very late due to Visa issues. He said, “We support our students coming through clearing by supporting them to find accommodation, as this is very late in the year we had to use the offsite halls.”

“It is felt that it is better to offer this off-site accommodation rather than students having to find alternative arrangements within the private rental market,” said Renton.

Student concerns with Ridgeview

Speaking to UniVerse, many students living in Ridgeview raised issues about the accommodation.

“The only good thing about this place, in my opinion, is that my room is quite bigger than most accommodation on-campus,” said Zeeshan Hasan Khan, Business Administration student and current resident of Ridgeview. He also said that there is a Sainbury’s within walking distance, and that the people and staff are nice, but these were the only good things that came to mind. Khan then went on to list the negatives of living at Ridgeview.

“The accommodation is extremely old,” he said. “The bathroom system is really bad in my opinion; my room’s sink doesn’t work. We have a free bus transport but the timings are pathetic. Sometimes you have to [wait] four hours before your first lecture because it will save you £4 on an UNO bus ticket…We can’t walk to the uni since we are in an entirely different city.”

Problems with travel connections to campus were one of the biggest issues, repeated by other students living at Ridgeview. This lack of service affects their student experience and could lead to disruptions around their studies.

“There wasn’t anything good about Ridgeview,” said student Alexander Moore. He complained that the showers were out-dated and that, “the buses were also ridiculous, very often not on time or just didn’t turn up….the uni just seemed to forget about us.”

In response to concerns raised over buses, Renton detailed the services of the 602 Hatfield-Watford Uno bus which runs every 30 minutes, and the 632 which runs every hour. The free shuttle service [provided by UH] runs seven days a week, but only provides “a morning service from Ridgeview to  Campus, an afternoon service and an evening service.”

“The Students’ Union has a copy of the full timetable and the students staying at Ridgeview have been briefed on the service,” said Renton.

One of the other issues raised by Khan was over housing contracts at Ridgeview. It is here that there seems to be a conflict of information between students and the university.

“We are on a permanent contract and the housing office hasn’t been co-operating with us either as to what happens when our contract end,” Khan said. “Don’t know about the others staying here but I’m looking forward to move out as soon as I get an opportunity.”

To his knowledge, Renton said: “Any student wishing to leave Ridgeview has not been held to any contract liability…Initially Ridgeview students were booked and charged up to 31 October. The allocations team are in the process of writing to all students to apologise that it has taken longer than expected to move them to alternatives and reassure them that they can be booked in for a further period.”

Life in off-campus accommodation

In the 2010/2011 academic year, Chris Pritchard, Post-Graduate Paramedic Science student, felt his time at Ridgeview was “awesome,” but even then there were still concerns over buses which have not been fully resolved. Pritchard concluded that the “building probably needs either more decoration, modernisation or to be replaced.”

Renton detailed that Ridgeview has a number of benefits, including being over £50 a week cheaper than a new build Halls room, amenities such as a communal lounge with Sky TV, a pool table, table tennis, free parking, and proximity to a number of large shops.

“As Ridgeview is away from campus it is inevitable that we cannot re-create the comprehensive amenities and facilities that a student living on campus will benefit from,” said Renton. “We do everything we can to ensure that the students who live off campus feel part of the university community and part of their own community within Halls of Residence.

Previously, Ridgeview was not included in the new Halls League, although it has now been added. Ridgeview was the only student accommodation not to be included at the beginning of the year.

“The SU were not aware that Ridgeview was going to be used as long term accommodation for students this year and therefore Ridgeview was not included in the Halls League,” said Elected Officer Shannen Rock.  “Now that the SU has been made aware that Ridgeview is going to be used for longer than originally planned we have accommodated for those students by creating a new Halls League team to ensure inclusion and hopefully an increased sense of community for those students.”

Rock added: “During the period that Ridgeview did not have a Halls League team, those students were never excluded from any of the Halls events. Likewise, all students are invited to participate in Halls League events and associate with this scheme whether they live on campus or not.”

“It is recognised that all accommodation can have issues from time to time, however, our Estates department and Student Life team work with students to resolve these as soon as possible.”

Located at Ridgeview there two members of the University Student Life team, Antoniah and Tope, along with a 24 hour security presence. “Antoniah and Tope deal with the day to day running of Ridgeview and provide welfare and pastoral care to the students,” said Renton. It would therefore be advisable to ensure that all concerns and issues at Ridgeview are brought to their attention.

Have there been any other accommodation issues?

Over discussions about Ridgeview accommodation, some students also raised concerns with their on-campus residence, including the new Spalding Court on College Lane.

“Living in Spalding, the problems we put on the inventory form haven’t been fixed,” said Tom Boon, Aerospace Engineering. “Every time you report a problem you get ‘we already know, you have to wait.’ I still don’t have blinds in my room, so I have to have bin bags up so Bellingham don’t see me changing and getting out the shower.”

The negative comments were also interspersed with positive aspects of the accommodation. Boon said: “The beds are amazing though, so it’s not all bad.”

Plans for the future

Renton stated that by the end of the week ending the 26th October there would be no students in hotels, and that re-location from Ridgeview would commence from Monday 27th October. He said: “We are endeavouring to move the remaining students before the end of the semester.”

With it being unclear to the wider student body whether the use of Ridgeview was planned this year, UniVerse clarified the university’s position on using Ridgeview in the future.

“The University has no intention of using Ridgeview next year or at any time in the future,” said Renton. “It is our understanding that it will not be available in future years once we hand it back to the owners.”

As the 2020 Estates Vision continues, Renton revealed that next year there will be 3300 rooms across College Lane and de Havilland Campus, an additional 900 rooms compared to this year.

“By 2016 we hope to have a total of 4100 rooms across both College Lane and de Havilland Campus,” he said. “In total this will be an additional 1500 new rooms, one of the largest developments of any university in the UK.”

With such an excess of students admitted through clearing this year who could not be accommodated with on-campus housing, it is questionable whether these new facilities may also be available for some second and third year students. It may seem unlikely at this current time to be considering this while there is still not enough accommodation for first year students who should be housed on campus.

UniVerse also contacted Residential Allocations and spoke with Clare Sapsford, Head of Frontline Services and Residential Allocations. She said that they had co-ordinated with Ross Renton in his responses so were unable to provide any additional information at that time.

Moving into university accommodation is a key aspect of the student experience for many people. While it is clear that there are new developments being made, and that students are making the most of their time in Halls, there is a serious cause for concern when some issues have not yet been resolved.

Renton urged students requiring support or guidance to contact the Student Life Team in Halls @UHstudentlife, housing.services@herts.ac.uk or on 01707 284062, or 01707 285973.

If you are living in Ridgeview and would like to share your views with us send them to our Facebook or Twitter @TridentMediaUK.

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Accommodation: Are some students being overlooked?