Whilst noting that Sheffield Hallam does not own any student accommodation and is not a landlord itself, the letter recognises and welcomes refunds and rebates which some providers have already put in place due to many students not being able to access the accommodation they are paying for.
The full open letter can be viewed below: -
Dear landlords and accommodation providers,
Last week I (the Vice-Chancellor) wrote to our students to welcome them to the new teaching semester and set out our commitment to provide the best opportunities to enable them to succeed despite the challenging circumstances in which we all find ourselves. The national lockdown and Government guidance mean the return to learning and teaching will not take place in the way we expected or hoped. One of the biggest challenges facing the higher education sector and a source of many questions and feedback from our students at Sheffield Hallam is accommodation. In my welcome message I acknowledged that many of them are facing financial difficulties and are understandably concerned about paying for accommodation they are not able to use.
We would like to give you an update on our support to students and our position regarding student accommodation.
Although around half our students commute from within the local region, many also live in a wide range and choice of rented accommodation in Sheffield. The University itself does not own any accommodation and is not a landlord. Nevertheless, we want to do whatever we can to support them.
One of the ways we have done this has been to make hardship funding available to all, and since March last year we have already supported our students’ access to learning through more than 4,500 non-means-tested awards totalling over £1.6m. In addition to this, we have chosen to allocate all accommodation income this academic year, around 600K from commission and fees for application and accommodation management, to student support. Students self-isolating and in quarantine have been able to request free essential supplies, including food deliveries. We opened our Asymptomatic Testing site in November and together with our Track and Trace service this continues to support our approach to keeping safe on campus.
In November and December, we conducted ‘living and learning’ surveys with our students to understand their situation better. This has shown unprecedented change and has provided us with a clear picture of the impact of the pandemic on where and how students are choosing to live. Many have concluded that their best option is not to return to their term-time accommodation, at least for the time being.
We value the role student accommodation providers and landlords play in our community and the benefits we bring together for our city. We are lobbying the Government to recognise the financial difficulties facing our students, including with regard to accommodation.
We welcome the refunds and rebates which a number of you have already put in place in recognition of the fact that many students have not been able to access the accommodation they are paying for. While we recognise that landlords vary in size and situation, we would encourage you all to consider whether you are able to take equivalent action to support students at this difficult time - whether through refunds, discounts or flexibility with contracts.
To help us provide up to date advice and guidance to our students we invite all landlords to get in touch to share the action they are taking and to continue dialogue with our Accommodation Service.
We are publishing this as an open letter to landlords across the city, and we thank you for your continued commitment and support during these challenging times.
Professor Sir Chris Husbands,
Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor
Sheffield Hallam University Students' Union President