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One of the country’s most historic educational centres for young blind people is warning that financial pressures are threatening its survival.

The Royal National College for the Blind, which has operated for almost 150 years, says without extra funding it will cease to be sustainable.

Lucy Proctor, chief executive of the college’s charitable trust, has blamed a squeeze on special-needs budgets.

But the government is promising a £700m increase for special needs.

‘National asset’

Lord Blunkett, a former student at the college, said he was “very concerned” about the “financial difficulty”.

The former education secretary said a “unique national asset” was at risk.

Ms Proctor says there might be a perception that the Hereford college must be well-resourced.

“Even the name makes us sound wealthy,” she says.

But accounts show a shortfall of £2.7m between income and spending – and in cash terms the college has a smaller income than six years ago.

Even with a recent sale of land, a restructuring and a hiring out of sports facilities, there is still a cash shortage.

As well as A-levels and vocational qualifications, the students, aged 16 to 25, learn practical skills needed by blind people for university or the workplace.

Local funding pressure

The biggest problem, says Ms Proctor, is that the college depends on local authorities paying for residential places, which can cost more than £50,000 a year.

“It is difficult for the local authorities, because there isn’t enough money in the system. They’ve been subject to cuts in every area,” says Ms Proctor.

“We’re a national provision, but we’re being funded locally.”

This means legal wrangles about getting councils to support places – and there are students who should already have started this term who are still at home arguing about funding, she says.

“Increasing student numbers is critical – and if student numbers don’t go up we won’t be financially sustainable,” she says.

At present, about 75 students are living there, but that number would need to rise to more than 90, says Ms Proctor.

Tackling isolation

Brandon, 19, says learning how to be independent has made a “massive difference” to him.

He is applying to university and has gone from thinking he would be “stuck in a room” all his life to feeling confident in travelling around the country.

“It’s so important to have independence – I felt like I couldn’t do anything for myself and then I got really depressed thinking I wasn’t worth the time and effort.

“No teenager should have to feel so isolated from the world. It’s awful. If other people can do it, why can’t we?

“In the end you can do whatever you want to if you put your mind to it.”

Brandon says having the support of other young people who have faced similar problems, after years of being the “odd one out”, has also made a big difference.

“They’ve all gone through sight loss, one way or another, in their life. You can put yourself in their shoes because you’ve gone through it.

“It helps massively because if you’re dealing with it on your own it can be a very isolating world. It’s so painful.”

‘Cheeky’ guide dogs

He says students have stories of being bullied, patronised or written off.

It’s even small things, says Brandon, like not being embarrassed if his guide dog starts making noises in lessons.

He also points out that despite their calm exterior, guide dogs can have “cheeky days” and his own had just eaten an entire cheesecake.

“It’s not just the academic side, but it’s the social side,” says 20-year-old Sonal.

“I really like sharing our experiences,” she says, after enduring years without friends facing similar challenges.

“I felt like I was the only person with visual impairment.”

It also gives her confidence and makes her less self-conscious to learn alongside other people with sight problems, whether it’s learning how to get into town or to cook for themselves.

Colour blindness

Ms Proctor says there is a great deal of information sharing between the young people, swapping apps and technology to assist blind people.

She mentions a device that can read the colour of clothing, so that people going to work will not dress in a way that makes them look out of place.

“They’re learning so much from each other. The friendship groups, the socialisation, is incredibly important,” she says.

The college says only about a quarter of working-age people who are blind or partially sighted are in employment, down from about a third in 2006.

Extra government support

The spending review, presented by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid in September, also promised more for special-needs funding, alongside a wider school spending increase of £7.1bn.

“We’re providing over £700m to give more support to children and young people with special educational needs – an 11% increase compared to last year,” the chancellor told MPs last month.

The Local Government Association welcomed the extra funding.

But Judith Blake, chairwoman of the association’s children and young people board, said there were still “long-term concerns” about meeting the cost of special educational needs.

“Without certainty over funding for the future the situation is likely to get worse as the number of children who need support continues to increase,” she said.

The “Stormzy effect” has contributed to more black students being admitted to the University of Cambridge, it has said.

For the first time, black students made up more than 3% of new undergraduates, according to figures released by the university.

Grime artist Stormzy has pledged to fund the tuition fees and living costs of two students each year.

The university said the new figures were reflective of wider UK society.

This year 91 black students were admitted to the university, up about 50% from the 61 who started courses in autumn 2018.

Reacting to the news in a tweet, Stormzy said: “This is amazing – there’s no way that this is because of me alone.”

He went on to thank the Cambridge University African Caribbean Society and the university itself for their efforts to recruit more black students.

He said: “Big up CambridgeACS for the incredible work they do they would of played a massive part in this. And big up Cambridge—Uni for there continued efforts.”

Since Stormzy’s funding announcement there has also been an increase in the number of black students taking part in outreach activities and enquiring about courses, the university said.

Other factors credited for the rise included the involvement of several student societies in promoting the university and proactive campaign work.

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The university said it meant this year there would be more than 200 black undergraduates studying at Cambridge in total, a record number.

UCAS figures showed that, as of 12 September, 33,730 black UK students had been accepted on to degree courses at British universities and colleges, meaning black students made up 7.9% of acceptances across the country in total.

Cambridge’s figures showed that 26.8% of its undergraduate students this year were UK residents from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Prof Graham Virgo, Cambridge’s senior pro-vice-chancellor for education, said: “This record rise in the number of black students is a credit to their hard work and ability. We have not lowered entry standards.”

Wanipa Ndhlovu, president of the university’s African-Caribbean Society (ACS), said the rise was “a testament to the hard work that ACS, as well as the university, has been putting in to break down perceptions”.

“It should send out a signal to other black students that they can find their place at Cambridge and succeed.”

The Duke of Sussex said he was “not sure how much longer exams will be around”, during a school visit to mark World Mental Health Day.

The prince made the comment to pupils during an assembly at Nottingham Academy.

It came after he had sat on a Nurture session – designed to boost students’ self-esteem and mental well-being – at the school.

He made the comment when he was shown a list of exams the pupils had to sit.

Harry told the assembly: “I’m not sure how much longer exams will be around to be honest”, before telling pupils at least they could look forward to Christmas once exams were finished.

Earlier the royal visitor had seemingly been given the cold shoulder by Barney, a therapy dog used by the school, as he sat in on a reluctant-readers group.

After being given a fish block to give to the black labradoodle, the prince said: “He’s going to have fish breath for the rest of the day. Great.”

Harry then sat with the group and described exam time as “the best time of year”, before saying “not really”.

He was later gifted a toy dog for his young son Archie by 14-year-old pupil Aleyna Genc, who has spent the past two years exchanging letters with the Duchess of Sussex while undergoing several operations to remove a brain tumour.

The prince is a passionate supporter of work to improve mental health.

Earlier he teamed up with singer Ed Sheeran for a World Mental Health Day awareness video on Instagram.

The pair urged people “to look out for anybody that might be suffering in silence”.

Earlier this week a mental health website struggled to cope with demand after a promotional video voiced by the dukes and duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex aired on TV.

The Every Mind Matters film screened on Sky, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and MTV.

During his Nottingham visit, the prince watched a “hip hopera” at the Community Recording Studio in St Ann’s which highlighted mental health issues.

Speaking to the young actors, he asked: “How many of you are playing a role that is very relatable to your own life?

“It’s not all going to be good but to have that perspective and that awareness of what’s potentially happened to you – where you’ve come from and where you’re going – that’s golden.”

The prince is a regular visitor to the East Midlands city, particularly in the St Ann’s area, where he supports several initiatives set up to help young people.

It was also the location of his first official public engagement with Meghan Markle in December 2017.

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Getting enough sleep and seeing friends may have a bigger effect on teenage girls’ mental wellbeing than social media use, a report suggests.

The finding comes in the government’s new State of the Nation report, looking at young people’s happiness levels.

Social media use in itself was found not to be strongly linked to girls’ mental health unless youngsters were losing sleep or being bullied online.

Bullying had an effect on wellbeing eight times stronger than social media.

Despite continued debate about the impact of social media on young people’s wellbeing, the report suggested once other factors were taken into account, there was not a strong link with psychological health.

‘Friendships’

Spending time with friends and getting enough sleep were “consistent protective factors for positive psychological health across adolescence”, the report commissioned by the Department for Education said.

Bullying was the factor most strongly associated with girls’ mental wellbeing but this became less important for older girls, it added.

The report concluded: “Social media use had one of the smallest effects of all the factors we examined: getting enough sleep and seeing friends were about three times larger.

“Being bullied, including online bullying, had an association with psychological health about eight times larger than social media use.

“This suggested that when accounting for other factors such as the effect of bullying, physical health and sleep, and the frequency of seeing friends, social media use had only a minimal unique association with psychological health.”

Overall, the study suggests the majority of young people are relatively happy with their lives, but there has been a slight increase over the past seven years in the proportion who are not.

‘Pressures’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The pressures young people face today both in and out of school are vastly different to those their parents and grandparents experienced, so we need to listen to what they have to say and act on it.”

He added: “It’s encouraging that the overwhelming majority of children say they are happy, but we have a responsibility to do better for those that aren’t.

“We have given teachers the power to tackle bad behaviour like bullying so that school is a safe place for every child to thrive, but today’s report helps shine a light on where to focus these efforts.”

In October 2018, then Prime Minister Theresa May committed to publishing a State of the Nation report to integrate the available evidence on the state of children and young people’s wellbeing, and to provide an accessible narrative on current evidence to guide discourse and action.

But interest in the national wellbeing of children and young people is not new.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has collated measures on the life satisfaction, feelings of worth and general happiness of children and young people since 2012.

The government has issued advice to local authorities on dealing with protests outside schools over LGBT-inclusive teaching.

The 21-page document, seen by the BBC, lays out how councils should support teachers to minimise disruption.

It comes after continued protests outside schools in Birmingham against the teaching of LGBT relationships.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it was working to ensure authorities had information to support schools.

The No Outsiders equality programme, which encourages children to accept differences in religions, families and relationships, was suspended in March amid angry protests at the gates of Parkfield Community School in Birmingham.

Protesters stated the subject matter contradicted the Islamic faith and that primary-age children were too young to be aware of same-sex relationships.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) previously said up to 70 schools in England had seen resistance from parents on relationships education.

The document, produced by the DfE, suggests councils could consider enforcement action if pupils are withdrawn from school because parents do not agree with what is being taught.

It also suggests if demonstrations are happening outside school gates, head teachers should consider liaising with police in case protesters are breaking the law.

Teachers who have seen the document told the BBC of their frustration at not being consulted beforehand.

They said they continued to feel unsupported as they tackled such a sensitive and emotive situation.

From September 2020, relationships education will be compulsory for all primary pupils.

“Some organisations are opposed to the introduction of these subjects, or to some of the expected content,” the leaked document said.

This has been seen “most starkly” in Birmingham, it continued, where demonstrations were held outside Parkfield Community School before spreading to Anderton Park, where protesters continue to gather outside an exclusion zone each week.

A High Court hearing this month will rule whether demonstrations can resume directly outside the school.

The DfE recognised campaigners “do not distinguish” between individual schools’ equality teachings and next year’s compulsory relationships education.

It advised schools to consult with parents on their education programme, but added it was “right” that schools should reflect parents’ views.

The advice is aimed at “encouraging parents to talk to their school about concerns, rather than protest at the school gates”, the DfE said, and “will also help [authorities] to consider options if protests do materialise”.

The government has previously been called on to give stronger backing to schools which teach about same-sex relationships.

Universities must do more to tackle harassment and hate crimes on campus, a report says.

Universities UK found good progress had been made in combating sexual misconduct and gender-based violence, since a taskforce was set up in 2016.

But less attention was given to other forms of harassment and hate crimes, such as those related to race or faith.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said there must be a “zero-tolerance culture” to all types of harassment.

As well as hate crimes, the report looked at “everyday harassment” or “micro-aggressions” based on a student’s disability, gender identity, race, ethnicity or nationality, religion, faith or belief, or sexual orientation.

Of the 92 of the UK’s 136 universities that responded to the UUK survey:

  • 81% have updated their discipline procedures, with 53% introducing or making additions to their student code of conduct
  • 78% have provided students clear information on how to report an incident
  • 72% have developed or improved recording of data on incidents, with a more centralised approach
  • 65% have rolled out consent training to their students
  • 50% said students could report incidents anonymously

UUK president Prof Julia Buckingham, the vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “The higher education sector recognises its shared responsibility to eliminating hate crime, which is unacceptable in our society, and in our universities.

“We are committed to ensuring we create welcoming and inclusive environments for students of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities to flourish and this research shows significant progress towards that.

“While it is understandable that there has been a particular focus on addressing gender-based violence, it is time for us to step up and make sure the same priority status and resourcing is given to addressing all forms of harassment and hate.”

Mr Skidmore said: “Any form of harassment, violence or hate crime is abhorrent and unacceptable anywhere in society and this includes our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments.

“The impact of these offences can be devastating on victims and while this report shows the progress which has been made, it also highlights the sad truth that there is much further to go to combat the culture of harassment, support those affected and take serious action where needed.

“I am urging all leaders to prioritise a zero-tolerance culture to all harassment and hate crime and do all they can to follow these recommendations.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “The findings from UUK show progress is being made by universities to develop systems and policies to address these issues but more must be done.

“These improvements need to be taking place across all universities.

“The OFS will continue to work with universities and colleges, and other organisations to ensure that all students from all backgrounds can be – and feel – safe on campus.”

Three families who challenged the government over its approach to special needs and disability (Send) funding have lost their case at the High Court.

They said there was a crisis in funding that would “blight” children’s lives.

Mr Justice Lewis dismissed their claim for a judicial review, ruling there had been no unlawful discrimination.

The education department had not acted irrationally and there had been “no breach of the general duty to promote the wellbeing of children in England”.

The legal action had been brought by three children with Send on behalf of others who also rely on the funding.

Nico Heugh Simone, 15, from Robertsbridge, East Sussex, Dakota Riddell, nine, from Birmingham, and Benedict McFinnigan, 14, from Scarborough, acted through their mothers.

Jenni Richards QC, who represented the families, told the court at a hearing in June there was “clear and incontrovertible evidence” of a “substantial national shortfall” in funding.

Ms Richards had argued:

  • Former Chancellor Philip Hammond had acted unlawfully in setting the national budget in October 2018
  • Former Education Secretary Damian Hinds had acted unlawfully when making available additional but “manifestly insufficient” Send funding in December

But government lawyers, who opposed the legal action, had argued the increase in demand had been recognised by the ministers and Mr Hinds had “made it clear” high needs would be one of his priorities ahead of the 2019 spending review.

Giving his verdict, Mr Justice Lewis said there was “no reasonable basis” for concluding the defendants had treating children and young people with special educational needs in a similar way to other children without such needs.

“Factually, the funding system provides for additional funding through the high-needs funding block,” he said. “That is currently over £6bn a year.”

And the government’s announcement in September it would provide an additional £700m over the next year for pupils “with the most complex needs” would address the budget for Send funding for future years.

‘Disappointed’

Nico’s mother, Lorraine Heugh, said: “We are understandably disappointed by the ruling.

“We campaigned for months on this issue and still believe that not only our children but thousands of other children across the country are being failed by the current system.

“Although the ruling may not have found in our favour, we will not stop campaigning for change.

“We urge the government to ensure the extra money it has promised for Send pupils finds its way to them and we hope that the ongoing reviews come back with firm proposals on how to improve services.

“We are not asking for preferential treatment, we just want children to have the best education they deserve.”

Dakota’s mother, Mary Riddell, said: “It was an honour and a pleasure to campaign with parent carers across the UK and fight for what our children deserve.

“I will continue to fight for what I believe is right and what our children deserve.

“On behalf of the parents, I would also like to thank all those who supported us during the case.

“The stories we heard of how other children have also been affected by Send funding vindicated our decision and now make us determined to continue to push for improvements.”

Anne-Marie Irwin, specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell law firm, which represented the families, said it had put forward strong legal arguments that “the decisions taken about Send funding were so inadequate as to make them unlawful”.

“We and the families are disappointed by today’s decision but thank the court for hearing the case,” she said.

‘Heartbreak and frustration’

The case was supported by campaign network Send Action, as well as charities Mencap and the National Deaf Childrens’ Society (NDCS).

Responding to the verdict, Send Action said: “The odds were stacked against us.”

Jo Campion, from NDCS, said: “This judgement in no way alters the fact that hundreds of thousands of disabled children have seen their support slashed, their specialist teachers cut back and their vital technology withheld.

“I’ve seen first-hand the heartbreak, stress and immense frustration that has become a daily reality for so many families.

“The government’s pledge of an extra £700m could make real progress towards alleviating the crisis ravaging the Send system but until the cheques are signed and the money arrives on the front line, disabled children across the country will continue be starved of support every single day.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “No child should be held back from reaching their potential, which is why we recently announced major new high-needs funding worth well over £700m in 2020-21.

“We have also launched a review of the system to see how it can make further improvements to make sure every child gets the education that is right for them.”

The High Court has previously rejected cases brought by families of children with special educational needs against Hackney and Surrey councils.

The universities minister says it is “deeply concerning” so many student housing blocks remain unfinished, leaving students in temporary accommodation.

Chris Skidmore is calling together providers of student accommodation, many of them private developers, to “ensure these failures don’t happen again”.

He was responding to a BBC News report into how 22 private student housing projects under construction have not been completed for the new term.

This represents almost a third of the current private student-housing developments, according to the Unipol student housing charity.

Mr Skidmore tweeted: “We cannot allow this inadequacy to continue.”

Student housing has been seen as a lucrative option for investors – but this autumn has seen a rash of accommodation projects not delivered on time.

‘Anxious’

It has meant housing problems for students in places including Portsmouth, Bristol, Lincoln, Swansea and Liverpool.

There have been concerns from student leaders about wellbeing and mental health when those leaving home for the first time might find themselves in temporary housing away from other students.

At the University of Portsmouth, about 250 students have had to be placed in alternative accommodation.

Politics student Destiny said she had spent the past three weeks in a hotel, away from other students and with no cooking facilities.

“I’ve been feeling really anxious,” she told BBC News. “I can’t concentrate on my studies.”

As with many new student housing blocks, the building project in Portsmouth was a private property development – with no involvement or link with the university.

“In many cases, universities have absolutely no say in how private student accommodation is run, its price, or how providers treat our students when things go wrong,” the university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Graham Galbraith, said.

Public money

Much of the growth in student housing has been fuelled by billions of pounds of public money – in the form of maintenance loans for their living costs.

But Prof Galbraith said there was “no real control” or strategic planning for private student housing.

He welcomed Mr Skidmore’s intervention and is calling for greater scrutiny and regulation of the sector.

He also wants better consumer protection for students signing housing contracts, as some “arrangements are incredibly one-sided”.

Universities UK said its code of conduct applied only to university-owned housing – which means any private student developments will not be covered.

And the higher education regulator, the Office for Students, said it “doesn’t have powers to regulate private accommodation providers”.

Prime Student Living, the private housing company behind the Stanhope House site in Portsmouth, said it had “unreservedly apologised to students”.

“We believe that we have done everything possible to mitigate the impact for those affected in the time available,” said a spokesman.

“We will continue to do all we can to get students into the building as an urgent priority.”

Breaches of children’s legal right to have special educational needs support have reached unprecedented levels, says an official complaints body.

England’s local government ombudsman said not only had there been a spike in complaints, but nine out of 10 of them were upheld in 2018-19.

Michael King warned that parents were having to fight the system that was established to support them.

Councils say they do not have enough resources to keep up with demand.

The Local Government Association points to an 11% increase in education, health and care (EHC) plans – detailed documents that set out the support children are legally entitled to – last year alone.

The ombudsman report focuses on applications for, and provision of, support within these plans.

‘Severe delays’

Mr King described the situation as “alarming” and “startling” and suggestive of a “system in crisis”.

The new report, Not Going to Plan, looked at the common problems the ombudsman found when investigating parents’ concerns.

Serious issues include delays of up to 90 weeks in issuing EHC plans, not anticipating local needs, communication and preparation for meetings, and a lack of oversight by senior staff.

The knock-on effect is that many children, often the most vulnerable in society, are not getting the right support at the right time.

This is having a significant impact on their education and attainment, Mr King said.

“We are now upholding almost nine in 10 investigations we carry out about education, health and care plans. This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work,” he added.

‘Rationing’ resources

Mr King said: “Two years ago when the system was bedding in, we were concerned we were upholding around 80% of investigations.

“That we are investigating and upholding significantly more complaints two years later suggests a system in crisis.”

He added: “I am now particularly concerned some authorities may be putting in place extra barriers to ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children’s needs.

“While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.”

The report comes as families who took the government to the High Court over the non-provision of special-needs support by different local authorities await a ruling.

“I hope this report puts the children and their families’ experiences in the spotlight, and the battles they face, and ultimately more urgency on the whole Send (special needs and disabilities) system improving.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Over 48,000 children were issued with new education, health and care plans in the last year, and the majority of these were completed within 20 weeks.

“During the assessment process children continue to attend their school and receive additional support, until their tailored support package is put into place.

“We’ve also announced an extra £700 million for pupils with complex needs in 2020-21 – an 11% increase on this year.”

Destiny is feeling cheated and angry.

She is one of about 250 students at the University of Portsmouth left in the lurch when their accommodation was not finished in time for the new term.

Instead of a glossy new room, she has been stuck temporarily in a hotel, away from other students – and with no cooking facilities she’s had to live on take-away food for nearly three weeks.

“I’ve been feeling really anxious. I can’t concentrate on my studies,” says the politics student.

There are 22 private student blocks across the UK that have been delayed this term – almost a third of those being built, according to student housing charity Unipol.

Lack of scrutiny?

Eva Crossan Jory, of the National Union of Students, says she is “extremely concerned at the significant rise” in students being disrupted.

But the University of Portsmouth is also angry – because even though there might be an assumption that it has some link to the unfinished student flats, these are private developments over which the university has no control.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Graham Galbraith, says there is a serious lack of scrutiny about how the private student accommodation system operates.

“At the end of the day, those housing providers know that the universities will step in. So where does the responsibility for this lie? Because they seem to be able to walk away,” he says.

Anyone going through university towns and cities will have seen new blocks of student flats mushrooming skywards.

These are often private investments, but the cash fuelling this building boom is public money – in the form of the maintenance loans to cover students’ living costs.

Prof Galbraith says it seems extraordinary that billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money should go into these private rental projects with so little accountability.

“There is no real control,” he says, and he warns that new blocks can open without even a “conversation” with the university.

He also wants better consumer protection for students signing housing contracts, arguing that some “arrangements are incredibly one-sided”.

Unregulated

This autumn there have been reports of unfinished flats in locations from Portsmouth to Swansea, Lincoln to Liverpool. In Bristol, delays have meant students being put up temporarily in Wales.

But it’s not clear who might intervene.

Universities UK says its code of conduct applies only to university-owned housing – which means any private student developments will not be covered.

The higher-education regulator, the Office for Students, says it “doesn’t have powers to regulate private accommodation providers”.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan asked a parliamentary question about “safeguards for students affected by properties not being built in time”.

But universities minister Chris Skidmore said universities were autonomous and that “government plays no direct role in the provision of student residential accommodation”.

First day, no accommodation

In Portsmouth, Bilgesu is another student unable to move into the new Stanhope House student building.

She is in a hotel with no free wi-fi, where she feels unable to get on with her degree course and isolated from student life.

“It’s just so far away from the student environment,” says the biomedical science student.

Alex, an international student from the Netherlands, found out about the accommodation not being ready just as he was travelling to the UK.

He was coming to a new country and a new city for the first time – and had nowhere to go, so booked himself into a hotel at his own expense.

“I didn’t know anything about this city, I couldn’t make any friends. It was hard for the first week,” says Alex, who was then found a room by the university.

He says he was even more taken aback when “on the day they told people they can’t move in, they were asking for money from them”.

“I feel like students are really easy to exploit. I just came here expecting the building to be ready, I’m trusting what I saw on the website.”

Compensation

Destiny says the disruption has meant she can’t get the term started. “I can’t organise my books. It’s affecting my studies,” she says.

The students are unimpressed by a compensation offer of £150 – less than they are still being charged for a week’s rent.

The students’ union and university officials have been trying to help students who have found themselves unable to move in.

Union president Helena Schofield says the link between housing and students’ mental health is underestimated.

Starting at university can be an emotional time – and such uncertainty about accommodation, and being away from other students, can only add to the stress.

Unreserved apologies

The private housing company behind Stanhope House, Prime Student Living, says it has “unreservedly apologised to students”.

But it blames its building contractor for a lack of advance warning of the failure to open on time and says finding alternative accommodation was made an “immediate priority”.

The spokesman said the company was “disappointed to hear that the university does not consider that we have communicated effectively to them”.

“We believe that we have done everything possible to mitigate the impact for those affected in the time available,” said the Prime Student Living spokesman.

“We will continue to do all we can to get students into the building as an urgent priority.”