Emergency General Meeting: rent inflation causes concern

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LUSU President Ste Smith is to put forward a motion detailing students’ dissatisfaction with university accommodation fee-increases to the forthcoming Union Council as a result of discussions at Monday’s General Meeting.

Despite the embargo on debating official motions due to a sub-quorate attendance level, the discussion, which had not been tabled as an official motion, was able to take place. The meeting, chaired by Smith, provided an opportunity for students to air their views and personal experiences of the impact of high rent prices and annual increases which are significantly above the level of inflation.

Introducing the issue was student Chris Witter, who had used official University publications (including minutes of Finance Committee meetings) to collate statistics detailing the trends apparent in accommodation rents over the last few years. He highlighted the commissioning of the property developer University Partnerships Programme (UPP) to develop campus accommodation as highly culpable for the “damaging” rises in rent tariffs: UPP were contracted on the basis that the University would increase rents each year at 1.5% above inflation.

It was felt by many in attendance that the crux of the matter lay in where financial responsibility for campus development and maintenance ought to lie: with the students, or with the University itself. Questions were raised about the wider picture of the cost of the university experience, with the assertion by some individuals that the University ought to source funding for its projects without relying on increasing students’ accommodation payments – particularly in the light of the tuition fee levels being raised to the maximum £9K per year for full-time Home students.

Given the limits to government funding set according to numerous parameters (such as parental income, year of study and previous study undertaken), many students expressed their beliefs that rent was already a burden, and that in many cases the price of accommodation encompasses more than monetary costs: students choosing to work throughout their studies may face difficulties in balancing their studies, extra-curricular activities and additional employment workload.

Witter also raised
concerns over the disappearance of ‘affordable’ accommodation on campus, with recent renovations tending towards ‘upscale’ accommodation facilities and leaving the availability of ‘basic-standard’ accommodation limited only to Bowland College.

Witter asked of the Union: “Why are we paying so much to live? How is that affecting the character of our university? Surely we want education to be
inclusive and diverse, not something that’s
becoming increasingly a privilege for, not even middle class, but very upper middle class students?”

Worried about the
future division of college identities along lines of class or wealth rather than
community spirit or sporting
reputation, Witter challenged the Union to take this issue forward and address the
concerns of students who feel that university rent is a very real problem to the
student body.

Smith proposed to contact the Head of
Colleges and Student Life,
Hilary Simmons, in the light of Monday’s discussion, and motion the issue at the
Union Council.

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