Leeds international students feel let down as they struggle to pay costs of empty accommodation

Two international students who moved countries to study in Leeds say they feel let down by the system, as they struggle to pay rent for accomodation they aren't using.

By Anna Doherty
Saturday, 6th February 2021, 4:45 pm
Ruxi Onofrei, 21, is paying rent for accommodation she has not lived in since November
Ruxi Onofrei, 21, is paying rent for accommodation she has not lived in since November

Marysia Rostkowska, a 19-year-old student from Poland studying Environmental Management at the University of Leeds, has struggled to navigate the difficult circumstances due to lockdowns in the UK.

Marysia travelled back to Poland in early November because of fears she would end up stranded in her halls over Christmas.

Although the University has refunded her 13 per cent of accommodation costs, Marysia says she is still struggling to meet the costs of her rent.

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Marysia Rostkowska, a 19-year-old student from Poland studying Environmental Management at the University of Leeds

Marysia said: “I just feel like they don’t really think of us international students, Poland is a really poor country and I’m having to work over here to afford to pay the rent I’m not even using."

It comes as a survey suggests more than two in three student renters in the UK are concerned about their ability to make rental payments due to Covid-19.

Around a third (36 per cent) of students believe that they would not be allowed to leave their tenancy agreement early amid the pandemic, according to the poll by the National Union of Students (NUS).

A Rent Strike Now campaign has been organised across the UK - but Marysia said she would not feel comfortable to participate in a rent strike.

She said: “I just don’t like the idea of doing a rent strike even though the money they have refunded us isn’t nearly enough.

“The idea of not paying the instalment plan makes me nervous as an international student and I don’t want more problems for missed payments down the line.”

Students in accommodation allocated by the University of Leeds can apply for a refund of their accommodation fees between the start of term on January 11 to February 19, if they've not been required on campus for face-to-face teaching and not lived in their accommodation between those dates.

A spokesperson for University of Leeds said: “The health and wellbeing of all of our students and staff remains our top priority and we do provide specific support for international students.”

Marysia says that coming to Leeds to study her course was a dream of hers and that she received good support from the university while she was on campus.

She added: “I do think British students are quick to say universities provide no help for students but in my perspective when I first came here, I was so shocked about all the emails sent regarding mental health.

“I think it’s really cool they do seem to care about your wellbeing here because it’s not like that at all in Poland.

"But I really hate this situation, paying for the rent and not even being able to come back to Leeds because of the lockdown."

Ruxi Onofrei is a 21-year-old student from Romania studying Japanese at the University of Leeds.

She was told by the University there would be face-to-face teaching last year, however this quickly moved online as soon as she returned to campus in September.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that the University said there would be face-to-face classes, I wouldn’t have come all the way to the UK", Ruxi said.

She lived in her accommodation from September to November but upon learning flights between the UK and Romania would be stopped, she made the decision to go back.

Since then, she has tried to end the contract with her private accommodation provider, but says she has only been offered a fifty per cent discount off four weeks of rent.

Ruxi added: "Out of the thousands of pounds that I have to pay, I have been given back a whooping £300 out of £7,854 for the whole year.”

The University of Leeds has invested £2m into a student hardship fund to assist those who have been financially hit hard over the course of the pandemic, to assist struggling students like Ruxi.

A university spokesperson said: “The fund is open to all students, including those living in accommodation that is not University-allocated, such as private housing.

"Information about how to apply and eligibility details are available on the Leeds Hardship Fund page.”