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With departure dates rapidly approaching, Indian students are booking tickets and preparing to leave for international universities.
To ease their concerns and answer their questions, we asked students who are already abroad to share their experiences. Here a former student of Warwick University, Aruni Mukherjee shares his advice.
As August approaches, most students would have received an unconditional offer from their chosen British university and submitted their visa application. The next most important item on their list of priorities is usually to find suitable accommodation whilst at university.
Many parents are particularly anxious about this topic, as naturally they would not want their children to live in unsuitable conditions when away from home. It is therefore absolutely essential that students are clear about what is available and what they should consider before making a decision about where to live.
Campus or off-campus
My university had a three-tier system of accommodation for overseas students. In our first year we were guaranteed accommodation on campus. It is possible that many other universities have a similar policy to help foreign students settle in.
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However, during our second year we had to find off-campus accommodations, either at one of the properties the university managed for local landlords, or find our own privately. In our final year, with all the added pressures of finishing a degree, we were given guaranteed campus accommodation once again.
Given that most Indian students probably leave the country for the first time when they go overseas to study, they have a tendency to be risk-averse and go for campus accommodations. This can be a good or bad move depending on a number of factors.
If your university is a 'campus university', it is likely to be situated a little distance away from the city centre in which case off-campus accommodation usually entails a short bus ride into campus. Living on campus means you are close to all university facilities (such as the library and the students' union) and it is also considered safer.
On the other hand, if your university is in London [Images] (or any other major city), it is likely that there will be ample public transport linking you to the campus, and since the various buildings of the university are likely to be scattered around, you are not likely to necessarily enjoy proximity to the facilities if you choose one of the university's student residences.
Costs are not as much a factor as you might think them to be. At my university, weekly rents for a room ranged from 50 pounds (approx Rs 4,000) to 100 pounds (approx Rs 8,000) per week, depending on the standard of student accommodation you wanted. This was comparable to renting a room or a flat in town.
In general, a lot of students arrive in the country and choose campus accommodation in their first year and move off campus in the second in order to see more of their surrounding areas. This is a good idea, particularly if you have a close circle of friends with whom you can share a flat/ house which is nearly always the cheaper (and probably safer) option vis-a-vis renting a room in a house.
The important question is: where do you find a choice of off-campus student accommodation? Your university's estates service will probably be the starting point, as they usually have a list of properties that they manage on behalf of local landlords.
However, I would advise you not to limit yourself to the list. Local estate agents in most towns have properties which are solely advertised for students, and it is a good idea to spend some time going to all the major agents and view a number of their properties to get an idea of what is available, where and at what price.
There are useful websites where a lot of student properties are advertised. A simple search for "student accommodation" should yield a number of good results, but some of them include: www.accommodationforstudents.com, www.homesforstudents.co.uk, www.studentpad.co.uk.
Most local estate agents also have websites which will help you look through their portfolios to identify properties that you want to view. You should only make a decision after you have viewed lots of properties (even though this might seem a lengthy process) and considered all factors (distance from campus, cost, quality, neighbourhood, etc), otherwise you may be in for nasty surprises later on in the year.
The renting process
You (or your group) will have to sign a tenancy agreement usually covering a period of one academic year. This is a legally binding document, making you liable to pay rent for the entire period, so be sure before signing it.
There will be administration costs charged by the estate agents, usually between 20 pounds (approx Rs 1,500) and 50 pounds (approx Rs 4,000) per person (so 80-200 pounds for a group of four students). As part of the process they may ask you for a copy of your student status letter (which your university should be happy to provide you with) and a copy of an identification document (usually your passport).
It is hard to estimate what the rent is likely to be, as that is dependent on a wide range of factors such as location, type and quality of accommodation. For example, a four-bedroom house in Coventry may have a monthly rent of 800 pounds (approx Rs 67,000), whereas a two-bedroom flat in Cambridge could cost the same.
You will also have to pay a security deposit, usually in the range of a month's or a month-and-a-half's rent on the entire property (eg 800-1,200 pounds for an 800 pound-per-month property between four students). This will be refundable at the end of your tenancy subject to the property being in the same condition as it was when you moved in, so the onus is on you to keep the property in good condition.
Usually agents also collect the rent on behalf of the landlord, in which case they might ask you to set up a standing order on your bank account. This means that on a certain date (usually the first of every month), your share of the rent will be debited from your account and transferred to the agent's account.
Some properties are advertised inclusive of utility bills (gas, electricity, water) whilst most are advertised exclusive. You will have to find out from the agent who the providers are for the property and call them up to open an account in your name and give meter readings. This is often overlooked, but is an important part of the process. You don't want to get bills for periods you've never lived in the property, do you? Make sure to call them again, give meter readings and close the accounts when you move out.
As far as council tax is concerned, full-time students are exempt.
I would advise Indian students to spend an extra �10-15 (approx Rs 800-Rs 1,000) a month and purchase tenants' contents insurance from a reputable broker. This is because student properties are often targeted by burglars and it is better to insure your valuable possessions.
Quite frankly, the police is usually unable to catch the burglars let alone recover the stolen goods, but you will need to report such incidents to the police to obtain a crime number which will be needed to process your insurance claim.
It is important to recognise that estate agents are salesmen, and will invariably talk up the property. It is therefore up to you (and your friends) to ensure that you have looked at a range of properties before making a decision, considering all relevant factors.
Often, some landlords get difficult about returning deposits in full and want to make deductions for damages that they attribute to you. It is advisable to keep photographs of the interiors of the property when you moved in and compare them to their condition when you move out to ensure that you have sufficient proof to claim a full refund of your deposit.
It is natural that during the year something might go wrong, for example, a leaking bath. Depending on the tenancy agreement, feel free to call the agent or the landlord. Sorting out regular wear and tear is part of the landlord's responsibility, and he is responsible for calling a contractor and rectifying the problem.
The whole process might appear like an ordeal, but it is also very exciting to live on your own for the very first time in a different country. There are plenty of things to keep in mind, but all being well it should be an exciting time.
Have you studied abroad? Do you have advice for students heading abroad? Helpful tips on how to tackle the visa interview or applications process? Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks when you applied to a foreign university but managed to overcome them? Are there paperwork issues that students should know about but don't? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with your advice and we'll publish your tips right here on rediff.com.
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