Rents across campus are likely to rise again next year, with an increased difference in price between new and old accommodation.
Prices for the academic year 2010-2011 are still under discussion but Dr Hilary Simmons, Head of the College and Residence Office, expects any rent increase to be ‘low’. Preliminary reports suggest, however, that the increase could be in the region of 2% or even more. The rent briefing group is to meet within the next week, by which time it is hoped that figures will have been agreed upon.
The rent briefing group consists of Simmons, LUSU President Michael Payne, Paul Farley from the Finance Department and Professor Amanda Chetwynd, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Colleges and the Student Experience. To set rent rises each year, the group uses a formula, which takes into account a variety of factors, including utility charges, energy consumption by students and RPI. Although the group meets in November, the value of RPI used in the formula has ordinarily come from the previous September.
Payne said that a rent rise for the next academic year would be ‘utterly unacceptable’.
“Any overall rent increase this year, after eight months of negative RPI, would be penny-pinching and unrealistic,” he said. “It would be Scrooge-like of the university to ask for more money in the current economic climate.”
RPI (Retail Price Index) is the most commonly used measure of inflation. It is calculated monthly and since March 2009 has been negative, reflecting the UK’s current state of recession. Its value in September 2009, the value used in calculating rent rises for next year, was -1.4, compared to 5.0 in September 2008, yet prices are still presumed to be set to rise.
JCR Presidents from several colleges spoke out against the potential raise and its effect on students.
“I don’t agree with the rent rise; however, I accept that the university is a business and needs to run like one,” said Chaz Ginn of Grizedale. “As long as the raise matches RPI and is as small as it needs to be we can’t complain.”
Cartmel JCR President Robbie Pickles told SCAN that if rent is going to rise the university must show it is offering a better service to on-campus students.
“Charges at the end of the year sometimes seem quite ridiculous,” he said, citing his own experience receiving charges of £12 for spot damage to a chair and £25 for ‘excess cleaning’. “A lot of people have problems with accommodation. If they make rent higher it should include damages.”
Whilst it is expected prices will increase across the board, there will potentially be a larger raise for rooms in the newest accommodation blocks, to reflect their higher quality.
University Partnerships Programme (UPP), a private sector housing provider, owns the newest housing blocks on campus, mainly in Alexandra Park but also the townhouses in County and Grizedale and rooms in Furness and Fylde. Superior en-suite rooms in UPP-owned houses currently cost £95.90 per week, compared to £92.40 for basic en-suite rooms in Slaidburn House, Bowland Hall, John Creed and George Fox.
Again, no decision has been taken as yet, but potential outcomes include larger rent increase for UPP-owned buildings or an increase for UPP buildings and a decrease for university-owned accommodation. However, a rent increase would be added on top of that leading to an overall increase in price for all accommodation.
Despite opposing any projected rent rise, Payne welcomes the increased price differentiation between old and new rooms.
“Although an overall rent increase would be firmly opposed by students, a more noticeable pricing differentiation between accommodation according to its quality would be welcomed. A sensible pricing structure should reflect the marked difference between ‘superior’ and ‘basic’ accommodation,” he said.
In addition to potential rent increases, JCR Presidents have criticized the amount of standard accommodation on campus. Just 24% of undergraduate rooms available are standard, meaning the vast majority of students are obliged to pay higher prices for en-suite accommodation.
“There’s not enough standard accommodation [on campus],” said Dave Prescott, President of Furness JCR. “Some students would prefer to pay less for more basic accommodation. We can’t say students don’t want it when they’re not offered a choice.”
Tom Skarbek-Wazynski of Bowland, a college with one of the highest levels of standard accommodation, agreed, saying “In Bowland we’re lucky because we have such a lot. It’s popular because of the price and also because of the social aspect – standard accommodation tends to have much larger kitchens than en-suite.”
College and Residence Officers, who are responsible for allocating rooms, feel differently, saying that in their experience en-suite is more popular.
“I end up having to house people who wanted en-suite in standard,” said Bowland’s officer Alison Platt. “First years seem to prefer en-suite. Second and third years often change to standard but freshers initially like the idea of their own bathroom.”
All officers agree that the university offers the right mix, something that Payne feels is very important.
“The university must maintain a wide range of accommodation types on campus. Different students have different needs and different budgetary allowances and none of them should be priced out” he said.
Simmons defended the accommodation on offer, telling SCAN that “in recent years we have not had to place any undergraduate students who wanted standard accommodation into en-suite accommodation.”
As well as Bowland, Pendle has a high number of standard rooms, whilst Furness offers a limited amount. County and Grizedale have the best variety of accommodation, with townhouse rooms as well as standard and en-suite, whereas Cartmel and Lonsdale offer nothing but superior en-suite.
Part of the university’s original refurbishment and building plans were for 80% of all campus accommodation to be en-suite, compared to the current 66%. Although plans to hand over all accommodation to UPP have been shelved, the university still plans to refurbish everything over the next six years.