Accommodation providers and landlords in many countries are demanding that students continue to pay their rent as per their contracts, even if they have returned home, or if they can no longer work because of lockdowns.
“It’s a terrible situation…It’s destroying students’ whole experience”
The scale of the issue has been revealed in a survey by The Class of 2020, which shows that 40% of accommodation providers are allowing students that returned home to cancel their contract, while the remaining 60% are keeping students in their contracts, with some offering rent discounts.
Conducted in March, the survey was taken by 38 organisations who are the key players in the student accommodation industry, including the leading operators, investors, suppliers, associations and universities across Europe.
Of the respondents who took part, 24% stated they are providing a rent-free period and 17% are providing discounts.
The severity of the situation for international students studying in Europe often depends on whether they are receiving funding.
For those who have remained in their host countries, university dormitories have been evacuated, leading to initial fears that some students would be made homeless.
While this issue is currently being resolved by some universities who are providing students with alternative temporary accommodation such as rooms in hotels, institutions are facing logistical challenges.
“It’s a terrible situation,” said Gohar Hovhannisyan, vice-president of The European Students’ Union.
“Our national student unions are trying to reach out to their local authorities, to institutions and to landlords but this doesn’t necessarily help.
“It’s destroying students’ whole experience… It creates a lot of negative feelings and this will be very, very hard to recover from. The international dimension of education will find it hard to recover.”
Hovhannisyan explained that many students are unable to pay rent because they have lost jobs due to lockdowns and because they have no social security support.
“The only thing now that can be done to support students is for the government to call upon the landlords and accommodation providers to be more supportive,” she added.
Hovhannisyan explained that international students in Europe on the Erasmus program who have had to go home will retain their funding in cases where landlords require them to keep paying their rent, meaning that they won’t have to pay out of their own pocket.
However, those who are funding their own studies are in a more precarious position, she added.
“In most of the countries, there is no general regulation… so it’s very much upon the individuals to negotiate it and come up with a solution.
“The role of the agencies or institutions who have organised international study experiences for students is crucial. They need to realise that they have a certain responsibility of supporting students to solve this situation,” she added.
Hovhannisyan also called on the governments of European countries to come up with support mechanisms that will help the students to pay their rents and sustain themselves until the lockdown is over.
But international students who have stayed in their host countries are also facing problems.
Kostis Giannidis president of the Erasmus Student Network explained that universities are having to find new accommodation for students, after dormitories were evacuated.
“The role of the agencies or institutions who have organised international study experiences for students is crucial”
“The universities are trying to find alternatives to make sure that the students are not made homeless,” he told The PIE.
“So for example, some universities have moved their international students into hotels or they have provided accommodation in other places.
“There is a logistical challenge here because if there are many students in the same place it dangerous for their health and so on,” he said.
““The universities are trying to find alternatives to make sure that the students are not made homeless”
The ESN has conducted a survey on the matter, which is due for release in the coming weeks. According to Giannidis, the survey has had 23,000 responses.
He told The PIE that 5% – around 1,150 – of the students stated their accommodation was cancelled by accommodation providers.
“This also causes a distraction and impacts the academic performance of the students, if they have to move from one place to the other.
Let’s not forget that they are still continuing with their academic studies online,” Giannidis added.