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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 107, August 2008





Ms. Loretto O’Callaghan

Disabilities Officer Imperial College

United Kingdom


Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret I am not in Rome to present this paper due to ill health. I hope it will give some food for thought and will be helpful in your deliberations.

I am writing from the London perspective as this is where my experience lies.

Society in London is multicultural. London is a cosmopolitan city where major religions of the world have places to worship, many providing for specific cultural and national language groups. So students coming to London to study at the different institutions should be able to sustain their beliefs, make contacts and friends.

Chaplaincies exist in some Colleges and may even be shared with other Institutions if there is not one ‘in house’.

In London there are Christian groups, Chinese, Danish, Finish, Free Church, Ghanaian, Icelandic, Korean, Lutheran, Nigerian, Orthodox, Swedish, Welsh, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh for example.

Student Unions offer facilities to Clubs and Societies which may also include religious groups. 

Student Accommodation

Now to get the matter I have been asked to address – international students and their families. The most important issue for this category of visitor is that of proper accommodation.

Most London Colleges have access to, or have their own, student accommodation. Many Colleges guarantee undergraduates their first year in a hall of residence or other type of College accommodation – a room in a shared flat or a room in a hostel rented to an institution and so on. However in order to honour guarantees most Colleges cannot allow students to remain in after their first year is over. This is the case at Imperial College London (a college and research institute of international renown covering science, technology, management and medicine) where I worked for many years dealing with student issues in accommodation and latterly working with the disabled community there where students with disabilities are allowed to remain in specially adapted units of accommodation close to their place of study, i.e. their department if they wish, for the duration of their studies. In general, accommodation for disabled people is limited and severely so for those with families.

After a year in hall undergraduates are expected, in the main, to find alternative accommodation in the private sector and there are agencies in Colleges who can help by providing lists of housing and landlords and many students find space by word of mouth, i.e. second, third or fourth year students pass on to those coming into their second details of where they have lived.

One year MSc students and Postgraduates can be housed too, however, there are not so many units of accommodation for this category and many live in the private sector.

Accommodation for students with spouses and children is virtually non-existent in London Colleges and all agencies recommend that this category does not arrive with their families until they have secured proper and affordable facilities.

Not all agencies in the private sector nor those letting accommodation provide for families who may be on limited budgets. Nor is all accommodation on the market in purpose built blocks which means that noise, particularly from children, can be an issue.

If children of students are of an age when they must by law attend school it is paramount to secure a place in one for them. It may not be possible to find a place in a school for a child local to their accommodation.

Nursery places for younger children are also expensive in London. Some Colleges have crèches and there may be funding available to subsidise a place, but this cannot be relied on nor can a place because of waiting lists.

Some faith groups operate crèches in their Churches and welcome families, particularly mothers or single parents who can become isolated and isolation should be a major consideration in the decision making process both for the mums and their young.

Living in London is EXPENSIVE. Hall and other accommodation is expensive. Many students must share rooms in order to keep costs down and this may not be possible for families.

Many students work and of course some students are not allowed to work in this country, so those from some overseas countries if they do not have proper funding or access to grants or other financial assistance, cannot afford maintenance costs to cover daily living, travel, books, food and so on and indeed the National Health Service facilities may not be available to some categories of student and insurance may be required to cover medical care.

Prior to coming to this Country to study it is important for candidates to ask questions and get answers that will help them make an informed choice of location.

Colleges have accommodation offices providing information on their own facilities and others. At Imperial College there is an International Office which advises overseas students on living in London and indeed may help with visa applications and so on. 

In my time working with students I have seen real financial hardship which can and does impact on study and relationships. For example some mature students arrive with their families with funding from their own Governments or institutions and do not believe what they have been told about costs and many, if not most, with amounts to support a single person only and not dependents and cannot make their money stretch consequently.

Students from some poorer countries have never seen the large amounts of money required to study in Britain and think that the £000’s they have been afforded will support a family.

College’s may have a pot of money to help students in hardship, however, only on a temporary basis to get one out of immediate difficulty and cannot provide additional funding for the duration of a course of study or research.

Some of the religious groups in London and other internationally linked ones run student hostels, however, few are in a position to house families.

In securing accommodation all providers require deposits and that students keep to the terms of their licence to occupy agreements and leases. If students fail to pay their bills, it may result in the host College being approached and the certification indicating that a student has passed their course of study may be withheld until payment is received. The knock on effect of this could mean that a student cannot get a job in some cases. It can also result in a loss of face on returning home.

Accommodation near Colleges in central London is expensive as I have already stated, however, living further away can entail costly travel expenses.

The World Wide Web is a wonderful beast! I recommend the following web sites at which a range of information is to be found about living, studying, funding, working and so on in Britain. UKCOSA produces a series of useful guidance notes for international students and on the British Council site for instance is a list of its offices in different countries and it produces a range of educational information notes.

  • The UK Council for International Student Affairs: 

  • The British Council: 

For many years I have been involved in the management of More House which is the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy for a number of Colleges in West London and is popular with students studying at Imperial College London, The Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music. It is run by the Canonesses of St. Augustine. There is a resident Chaplain and Mass is celebrated daily in its lovely peaceful Chapel. The Hostel accommodates in the region of 75 single students who in the main share double rooms.

There is no availability for married students or children.

  • More House can be found at


There are obviously other hostels in London.  

In conclusion

I will underline again the importance that candidates who wish to study in London or indeed anywhere else that they secure their affordable accommodation prior to arrival. That they ask questions of their host institutions to do this. London is a big city and people need to keep safe so it is imperative to know where they are going to live and have knowledge of the location and what facilities are available for them as a family, how they will travel to and from their place of study, either on foot or on public transport. It would not be safe to arrive in a big city with nowhere to live and without some knowledge of the environment.

Some Universities, Colleges and indeed More House let their halls and rooms during the vacation periods, particularly in the Summer, but sometimes during the Easter and at Christmas to visitors who are not necessarily students. So such accommodation might be useful while searching for housing if not being allocated by any College at a particular time in the year.

If money is not an issue and a student with a family has a solid financial backing then nothing is impossible in London! Money buys choice!

I hope very much that your gathering here is successful and that you are enjoying this meeting.