The housing volunteer officer is responsible for overseeing the University of Stirling students’ issues relating to public and private housing.
Third-year Law and History student Justine Pédussel understands the grunt work that goes into improving housing but is determined to see her ideas through, no matter the outcome of the Stirling Student Union election.
“This is something I really, really care about. Even in my first year, during Covid, I knew this was something I wanted to do, and I’ve realised the Student Union position is the best way of achieving that.”
Brig sat down with Justine to ask her about why she’s running, and what she plans to do if elected.
“I think the housing conditions are really atrocious. I know that a lot of people have a lot of issues and some of the conditions in which people are living under, and accepting, is really bad.”
As housing officer, she wants to hold the university accountable for the conditions that many students find themselves stuck living in, as “it shouldn’t be the case and no one should ever have to live like that.”
“The only reason I think people are accepting it is because it’s become the norm now, and there’s so much demand for housing that there’s not really much else of a choice and I think that’s just as much the fault of university accommodation as it is in-town accommodation.”
After doing some work with LivingRent, Justine understands the importance of canvassing, and wants to use her experience to help the university understand how their accommodation can be improved.
“We went around university accommodation canvassing to have a look and we took pictures, handed out forms to people, things like that, about what conditions they were living under and what the issues were.
“My first step as housing officer would be recanvassing and checking up on all of the previous issues and then bringing them to management, saying that we need to fix all of that specifically.”
She also wants to work closely with the Students’ Union when campaigning for improvements and believes that they have a responsibility to support any housing actions.
However, even when students are paying higher prices for newer and higher quality accommodations such as Willow, Beech and Juniper Court, there are also a variety of issues, but not on the same scale as the cheaper housing.
For example, H.H. Donnelly House has consistently lost heating every January for the past three years.
“I experienced it when I lived there, and it happened the year before me and the year after me so I feel like after at least three years of this, it should be fairly clear that there is more of an issue than just a system failure during the month. It should be more of a long-term fix.
‘The quality of the higher priced accommodation should be the norm, but not the price.”
For many students, the higher priced accommodation is inaccessible because students simply cannot afford to pay upwards of £600 a month. A big selling point for these accommodations isn’t just the quality, but the fact that the rooms have their own ensuite.
“The standard, the quality they give should be the norm for everything. Then have tiered for ensuites, things like that, or more flatmates, less flatmates could also be a thing.”
For Justine, working with the Students’ Union includes campaigning for the inclusion of university accommodation in the rent freeze/cap.
According to ShelterScotland, any rent increases for those living in college or university halls or purpose-built student accommodation between October 28, 2022 and March 30, 2023 are not valid.
However, from March 31, 2023 your landlord can increase your rent by following the rent increase process written in your contract. For most other housing types, there is a rent cap in place until at least September 30, 2023 and can only increase by 3% after April 1, 2023.
She wants students’ concerns about costs to be taken more seriously, believing that the university has a duty of care to provide realistically affordable housing for students.
The university also needs to balance the number of students that it is accepting with the amount that is available both on and off campus.
‘The university is bringing in more students than there is housing for. I’ve even heard of landlords in town asking students to bid on housing, and it’s only because there is no alternative that someone is going to agree to that.”
Justine believes that by taking in fewer students and building more accommodations, the university will be able to continue with the number of students it currently has while also providing its duty of care to those in halls and private housing.
“Obviously, we don’t want them to build more housing if it’s going to be low-quality. It needs to be a balance of both because the students are already here so you can’t turn away the ones that already enrolled but they can take in less students, or not increase the number of students they are taking in each year.”
Power to Students
Justine doesn’t want to place all the blame on the university, believing that it ‘really does care about its’ students’.
However, the housing situation amongst a cost of living crisis has become so dire that “it’s easier to take advantage of students as they tend to not know their rights as much and especially if you’re an international student, which this university has quite a high population of, you’re not really sure how to manoeuvre the system or what’s allowed to be done, what’s not allowed to be done, and who to talk to.”
According to TimesHigherEducation, the University of Stirling has a cohort of almost 14,000 which means students make up over a quarter of the total population of Stirling.
“We do have a lot more power than we think. If this is something that students really want, we do have the power to do it. It’s achievable.”
“I don’t want to make any promises that aren’t realistic. What can be sorted right now is the quality. It’s ridiculous coming home to a place that’s cold, that has terrible air flow, there’s mould. It shouldn’t be the case and no one should ever have to live like that.”
Voting for the Stirling Students Union at 10:00 on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.
Featured Image Credit: Justine Pédussel
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