Campus rent rises next year have been set at just 1.9%, compared to an original suggestion of 5%.
Price rises for 2010-2011 were adjusted to take into account the university’s overestimation of RPI (Retail Price Index, a measure of inflation) for 2009-2010.
RPI is just one factor affecting rent rises but is the most significant. Last year the overall rise was 5.25%, based on RPI levels in September 2008. However, as inflation has fallen consistently since then, 3.1% has been deducted from this year’s rise. In effect students are being paid back for having paid too much last year.
The full breakdown of the rise includes 3% RPI, 1.5% from the contract between the university and UPP (University Partnership Programme), who own a considerable amount of accommodation on campus, and 0.5% for utilities. The 3.1% deduction from last year leaves 1.9%, which equates to a rise of £1.80 per week for superior en-suite rooms, the most expensive accommodation.
Whilst the contractual 1.5% is fixed and will make part of the rent increase until 2013, the remaining 0.4% of the 1.9% total comes from utilities usage and is open to negotiation. Michael Payne, LUSU President and one of the four key figures involved in price setting, is adamant that any utilities-related increase is as small as possible.
“I’ve asked for some more figures about the utilities charges to make sure that that 0.4% is absolutely as small as it can be considering all of the energy-saving initiatives that are going on at the moment in the students’ union and university,” he said. “I’m told that the volume of energy consumption has declined but that the price per unit of energy has increased.” Payne feels that energy consumption is key to keeping rent increases to a minimum in future.
Although Payne admits that the 1.9% increase is ‘not too unreasonable’, opinions differ amongst JCR Presidents.
“I welcome the drop in rise, as anything’s better than 5%, but it’s still not OK to just say it’s less than it’s going to be,” said Robbie Pickles, Cartmel’s President. “Is it just a way of making money out of students who don’t have it?”
“It’s not ideal but I was expecting higher,” added Chaz Ginn, President of Grizedale. “Raising it at all is inconsiderate but at least they’ve kept it to a minimum.”
In addition to the overall percentage increase plans have been laid to differentiate more heavily between standard and superior accommodation. Many of the university-owned standard rooms are in need of refurbishment and are, according to Payne, ‘dilapidated and poor quality’.
Under the new plan, there will be a slight further increase, around £1, in UPP-owned accommodation rent. This includes all rooms on Alexandra Park and the County and Grizedale townhouses. There will also be a decrease in rent of around £6 for university-owned accommodation, leading to a planned difference of £8 per week.
Payne supports the proposed differential. “I think it’s a good principle,” he said. “It allows students to make a financial budgetary choice – do they want good quality accommodation for an extra £8 or would they prefer the extra money?”
Ginn, however, disagrees. “I think that’s awful. We’re lucky in Grizedale in that we have the option of both superior and standard,” she said. “There are a lot of students who will be outpriced and now might have to get a part-time job to support themselves.”
Whilst agreeing that the move could be seen as students in standard accommodation being subsidised by those in superior, Payne feels instead that the move will prevent UPP accommodation from becoming oversubscribed.
“When the university took on the UPP stock they pitched the pricing levels wrong, or weren’t willing to drop the level of their own accommodation for fear that everyone would pick UPP accommodation,” he said.
Given that the contract between the university and UPP allows UPP a proportion of the rent, too many students choosing superior accommodation would affect the university’s budget and investment into its facilities.