Campus accommodation: are we getting our money’s worth?

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For the fourth year running, Lancaster has won the National Student Housing Survey’s most prestigious award, Best University Halls. My question is: how?

The accommodation itself is alright. After living on campus in my first year I’ve had no horror stories, and the size and design of my room was more than suited to my needs. But the best in the country? The hot water was lukewarm in the early hours of the morning, so if you have a shower after a late night vodka spillage, or use a flatmate’s cutlery and want to wash it before the morning, you’re going to need some serious elbow grease. The cleaner only takes out the rubbish bin, encouraging busy (or lazy?) people to put recyclables in with the rubbish, thus creating a huge smelly mound of waste at all times. Plus, I had no Wi-Fi all year so I couldn’t fulfil the student stereotype and ‘study’ in bed.

But my real issue with the accommodation at Lancaster is not the quality. I would have happily had a room just like that in the second year. Falling out of bed and into my lecture is something I know I will miss. My problem is with whoever it is has made it their job to squeeze students (who everyone knows have no money) out of every penny they can.

Let me say now that I’m not slagging off any individuals that I have met. My residence officer was always very pleasant, and three out of the four porters were very easy to talk to and worth popping in to see for a chat. It’s whoever’s pulling their strings, whichever senior manager of piss-taking in charge of coming up with ridiculously high quotas, that is really tarnishing the friendly impression one gets from a Lancaster open day.

To start with, they increase the rent every single year. Rent last year increased from £5 to £7 every week, which can mean that for a 40 week rental you may have had to pay £280 more than the person who stayed there last year. Yes, inflation exists, but the figures they come up with are simply grotesque. Almost all freshers want to be living on campus in their first year, so they have no option but to pay these fees. And then there are the different contracts depending on which type of room you pick, so even if you think you’re picking a cheaper option, it could turn out that you have to pay for it for 43 weeks as opposed to 36 weeks, meaning they end up screwing us all out of around the same amount anyway.

Then there’s the whole deposit-deductions scandal. That’s exactly what it is: a scandal. The fresher reps warned me when I moved in but I had no idea how bad it would be. They just make up things that were wrong with your room at the end of the year, giving themselves the equivalent of over a day’s wages in a twenty second email. I was personally charged £50 to remove a large item that didn’t exist (but even if it had, what costs £50 to remove, really?) and £6 to empty my already empty bin (as was the case with my entire flat). They just knock what they want off everyone’s deposit and see how many they can get away with (everyone who doesn’t complain, which in an ideal world would be no one). They even say when they send out the emails not to expect an immediate response because they know they’re going to be backlogged with emails from the thousands of people they’re ripping off.

At the end of the day, universities are corporations. We have to accept that they are designed to make money from students. But do they need to push it this far? I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to pay £9,000 a year to be here, plus the accommodation fee to ACTUALLY be here. That extortionate figure multiplied by over 12,000 students amounts to over £100 million a year. The university is more wadded than it ever has been. Does it need to be squeezing students on accommodation as well?

We are paying good money to be part of Lancaster University so we should be considered customers. My friend left her scarf in her room when she moved out. You don’t have to be an idealist to think that it should have been posted on to her, but she was met with a large bill if she wanted to see it again. This is crazy! She has committed to this university so it should be looking after her, as companies do look after well-paying customers. The spreadsheet police need to be happy with the extortionate amount we are giving them in fees and cool-it before they get a bad national reputation and no one wants to come to Lancaster.

Simon James

Any excuse to write about Oasis really.

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