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Over a fifth of international students in Scotland have experienced homelessness during their studies

students walking through gate

As NUS Scotland launch their first ever Celebrating International Students’ Week, they have revealed that international students are almost twice as likely to experience homelessness than home students, with a massive 21% of international students having experienced homelessness since starting their studies, compared to only 12% of home students.

International students struggle more than home students to secure housing because many do not have a UK based guarantor, which is required by most landlords to secure a tenancy. They are also more often targeted by housing scams, in which scammers pose as landlords and demand they pay a deposit in advance. When the student arrives in the country, they find that the property they believe they had secured does not exist.

The survey also found that:

  • 10% of international students have used foodbanks
  • 29% have considered leaving their course because of financial difficulties 
  • 49% have skipped a meal
  • 42% have gone without heating
  • 29% have been unable to pay their rent in full
  • 36% have been unable to pay their energy bills

When compared to data from NUS Scotland’s Cost of Survival report, it is clear that international students are facing comparable or worse levels of poverty as home students in the cost-of-living crisis.

NUS Scotland are calling for universities to ensure that international students always have access to safe, affordable housing by introducing a Student Housing Guarantee. They are also asking universities to widen the eligibility criteria for their hardship funds, as international students are often excluded from applying for them, despite struggling financially at a similar rate to home students.

Commenting, NUS Scotland President, Ellie Gomersall said:

“The rates of homelessness in international students are unacceptable.

“Scotland prides itself on having a world-class education system, but this is being undermined by the way we treat those coming to learn from other countries. 

“International students are expected to pay extortionate fees but have no support once they arrive in Scotland, facing homelessness and skipping meals just to get by. 

“It is time for the Scottish Government and institutions to act.

“Universities can support international students by introducing a Student Housing Guarantee that ensures that there is a bed guaranteed to every international student from the moment they arrive in Scotland. They must also extend their hardship and discretionary funding so that international students can apply for them.

“The Scottish Government should use their devolved powers to cap how much universities can charge international students.”

Commenting, Vanessa Mabonso Nzolo, President of Aberdeen University Students’ Association and a recently graduated international-EU student, said:

“There is a misconception that all international students are extremely wealthy, but this survey proves this is not the case. The cost-of-living crisis is affecting international students disproportionately in the current economy as visa fees, exchange rates, and budgeting has become increasingly more difficult.

“International students are far more at risk of experiencing homelessness.

“We have heard of international students who have been unable to secure housing and are forced to live in hostels whilst at university. Others have to live in expensive hotels, blowing their budget for the whole term in a number of weeks. We have even heard of up to 8 international students sharing a one-bedroom Airbnb because that is all they could afford.

“International students are less likely to come forward when they are struggling because they are worried about how being homeless may affect their visa. They have very few opportunities with limited working hours and no access to public funds.

“There is stigma around being an international student due to the hostile environment created by the Home Office, extending to university campuses across the nation. Universities need to support all their students to ensure they can focus on their studies, rather than survival.

“Universities must guarantee that all of their international students have access to affordable and quality housing and the government needs to reconsider the amount of hours one can legally work on an international student visa. Clearly, in the current economy, 20 hours does not cover the cost-of-living.”

Sector Response

The NUS report states that: “International students struggle more than home students to secure housing because many do not have a UK based guarantor, which is required by most landlords to secure a tenancy.”

Paul Foy, CEO of RentGuarantor, offers the following quote on the issues discussed above:

“RentGuarantor calls on universities to help international students in Scotland access a guarantor service. The NUS report highlights the harsh realities faced by international students navigating the Scottish rental sector. It is our belief that having a secure guarantor is a foundational part of ensuring that a student’s ability to learn is never be held back by their living situation.

“We are proud to support students, both international and domestic, from across the socio-economic spectrum and will continue to offer our services to the UK’s international students.”

  • The data is based on a survey of almost 2% of all international students in Scotland.
  • NUS Scotland’s Celebrating International Students Week is an opportunity to celebrate International Students’ contributions to Scotland and also for international students to tell NUS Scotland how to create and fight for a system that truly values them.
  • It is being held from 24th-30th April 2023, and will consist of a number of events for international students, including a roundtable discussion. 

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