REPORT: Student Rent Increases and Student Funding at UCL – The Facts

by David Dahlborn

Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Note on Statistics
  3. Increases
  4. Student Incomes
  5. Living Costs Surpassing Incomes
  6. Local Market Rates
  7. UCL’s Surplus
  8. Summary
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UCL’s Ramsay Hall (£8391.60 for a single room for 40 weeks).
  1. Introduction

Earlier this year UCLU published statistics that revealed the true extent of the cost of living in UCL halls in proportion to student incomes. But how much have rent levels and student incomes changed over the past few years? A quick historical comparison reveals exactly how much rents and student incomes have changed since before the tuition fee increase was declared in 2010.

  1. A Note on Statistics

All rents cited are based on statistics from UCL. The average rates for 2009 do not include halls that are no longer in operation in 2015. The dataset does also not include rates for halls recently acquired through the UCL-Institute of Education merger. The cost of living statistics cited are based on the UCLU research and have been updated to include rents from 2015-16. In 2009, undergraduate rooms were let for 37 weeks whereas in 2015 contracts last 40 weeks. Average cost increase calculations are based on the full academic year as there is no option for a shorter contract.

  1. Increases

Since 2009, the average cost for a single room at UCL has increased by almost 55%, or £2484.94 for the academic year. This means that the average room, which six years ago cost £4546.68 (£123 per week), now costs £7031.62 (£176pw). This is very slightly above the cost of a median-priced room, which stands at £6983.20 (£174.58pw) – a 56% increase from 2009. rent chart 6

The most dramatic increase, proportionately and in real terms, has been in Astor College, where rent has gone up by 96% from £106.19pw to £192.50pw – £7700 spread across an academic year. Although this includes added costs for catered dinners it means that Astor College is now one of the most expensive halls at UCL. Most commonly, rooms which cost around £120pw in 2009, now cost £174.58, or £6983.20 for 40 weeks.

Rent in the most expensive halls has increased less proportionately, but matches the average increase in real terms. Frances Gardner House, for instance, has risen from £5677 (£153pw) to £8103 (£203pw), or 43%, for the academic year. The two least expensive halls have risen slightly less in real terms (by £1945, to £5432.60), but match the average percentage increase.

Additionally, since 2009 UCL has discontinued its very cheapest and genuinely affordable rooms. These rooms have been replaced by several rooms offered in halls that fall within the most expensive range of UCL accommodation. In 2009 it was possible to rent a room at Clifford Pugh House in NW3 for £88.62pw. Rooms at UCL-run Holmbury St Mary in Dorking could be rented for half this price. In 2015 these rooms are no longer on offer and have been replaced by rooms at Woodland House in N7 and St Pancras Way in NW1 for a rent of £197.98 and £213.15pw respectively.

The most expensive rooms at UCL can now be found at Prankerd House, where the rent for a single room is £8710.80 (£218pw) for an academic year, almost as much as tuition fees.

  1. Student Incomes

The increase in student incomes from maintenance loans and grants during this period has been between 12 and 16% depending on students’ means-tested funding. In real terms, a student in London who in 2009 would have received £6928 for an academic year now receives £7788, in loans and grants – a real-terms increase of £860 for a year. As a result, the proportion of students’ income taken up by the average and the median rent at UCL has risen from about 53% to 72% for students from households earning less than £25,000 per year – an increase of 35%. For those from households earning more than £45,000 per year this change has been from 65% to 90% of their student income. This does not include further costs of living such as food and clothes.

At UCL the student bursary has been frozen for the past few years at £2000 and £1000 per year for students middle and low income households respectively.
rent chart 2rent chart 3

In comparison, the increasing cost of commodities according to the Consumer Prices Index has since been 19.8 percent. In other words, Student rents have increased at a rate more than double that of inflation while grants and loans are now worth less compared to average commodities.

  1. Living Costs Surpassing Income

Comparing the cost of living at UCL to grants and loans reveals that a considerable amount of rooms are unaffordable in the sense that no student could afford to rent them were they to live off their current rates of student income. This including the UCL bursary, specially intended to cover living costs. An overwhelming majority of rooms leave students from households earning more than £30,000 per year on a weekly budget of less than £30 once rent and other essential costs have been paid (not including travel costs).

At St Pancras Way a student from a household earning between £25,000 and £30,000 now has to pay more of the cost of rent and other essential living costs than their combined income from grants, loans and the UCL bursary. The same goes for four other UCL halls.rent chart 4For students from households earning between £40,000 and £45,000 per year, 19 out of 22 halls are unaffordable in the sense that their student income will not be able to cover rent and basic living costs. For students from households earning between £35,000 and £40,000 the corresponding number is 14 out of 22. The median income for a household with one child and two adults is £36,600. The median income for a household with two children and two adults is £44,200.

  1. Local Market Rates

Compared to the local median rent in the London Boroughs of Camden and Islington, where a large number of UCL rooms are located, UCL rents are considerably higher than market rates. Median market rate rents in these boroughs are £152 and £143pw respectively, which places UCL’s median rent of £174 in the top quartile.

From the perspective of what is considered ‘affordable rents’ (80 percent of market rates), only UCL’s very cheapest rooms qualify as ‘affordable’ compared to the median rent in the WC1 postcode area, and all rooms fail to qualify if compared to the median rent of Camden Borough. All UCL rents fail to qualify as ‘living rents’ (defined as not exceeding 35 percent of tenants’ income).

  1. UCL’s Surplus

Between 2009 and 2015 the surplus made by UCL from students rent, in other words the difference between the income received from accommodation and the running costs, increased from £5,300,000 to £12,285,000. It is also worth noting that this figure continues to climb sharply, as the surplus will run at £15,779,000 for the 2015/16 academic year. This represents an increase of almost 200%.

rent chart 5

Summary

Over the course of the past 6 years rents at UCL have increased at a rate that outpaces corresponding increases in student income both proportionately and in real terms. Furthermore, as a result, students across the board, now pay a greater proportion of their income directly towards rent than ever before. Once other basic living expenses have been considered only a small minority of rooms at UCL allow most students to spend more than £30 per week towards other costs while a substantial proportion of rooms do not leave students with any money left of their income whatsoever. UCL has also removed its most affordable rooms and acquired new rooms at the most expensive end of the scale while at the same time the College makes greater surplus off student housing than ever before.

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Why the campaigns for lower rent in university accommodation must be part of a wider movement for free education – a response to Pi

By Angus O’Brien

In a recent Pi article, it was argued that sabbatical officers at UCLU should fight on behalf of the ‘UCL, cut the rent’ campaign, rather than pursuing ‘pet projects’ such as the campaign for free education. In doing so, Pi ignores some basic elements of the cut the rent campaign that has developed at UCL and understates the importance of the campaign, and similar ones, in the national movement for free education.

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Not a sabbatical officer in sight…

Firstly, it should be noted that Pi criticises some of the sabbatical officers who have been most prominent in the national organisation of the free education movement (including the march for free education in November last year), even though they have not been the only ones who have been involved in the creation of the campaign and the organisation of all of its actions to date. These officers are part of UCL Defend Education, a group on campus that, alongside fighting for better conditions for students (through the setting up of the cut the rent campaign, for example) has been centrally involved in the national campaign for free education. Secondly, perhaps to state the obvious, the majority of the organisation and running of the campaign has been done by students who, at most, are part-time officers in the union, with the majority holding no particular union role. Whilst Pi may contend that this is a problem, that the sabbatical officers should be the ones doing this instead, this would be to completely misunderstand how a campaign should be run. Instead of focusing on sabbatical officers who are not pulling their weight, the focus should be on the wider student population. It is likely that the majority of students at UCL have, either past or present, lived in student halls and have first-hand experience of quite how unaffordable it is. They should also recognise the consequences of year-on-year rent increases – that UCL increasingly becomes the preserve simply of those who can afford to live there, that entire sections of society are priced out of education. Maybe, instead of spending half the article, after a half-hearted attempt to fulfil what is expressed in the title, criticising sabbatical officers for their lack of involvement, the focus should have been on the importance of the campaign for the future of the university and why all members of the UCL population should be getting involved.

Look at this terrible student pretending to be a sabbatical officer
Look at this terrible student pretending to be a sabbatical officer

Finally, the reason the same students and sabbatical officers that have been involved in fighting for free education as well as the ‘UCL, cut the rent’ campaign is that the two are necessarily intertwined. Pi quite rightly states ‘you can’t have free education without affordable accommodation’, but does not recognise that the fight for each is the same fight. Both of these elements work in tandem to further increase the inaccessibility of education – £9,000 tuition fees put off those unwilling to take on an enormous burden of debt, whilst rocketing accommodation fees result in a situation in which many cannot afford the day-to-day living cost of going to university and for those who do, they are further burdened by the extra thousands of pounds going towards their accommodation.

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How bad does the affordable accommodation banner looks on the march for free education in Birmingham!

Pi’s belief that the campaign for lower accommodation fees is separate from fighting for free education reflects an essentially incorrect view of how any political campaign is won. Free education will not be won by the NUS; it will be won through organisation on a campus behind a national movement and local campaigns for more affordable and accessible universities, such as the ‘UCL, cut the rent’ campaign, both led by students and sabbatical officers.

UCL Students Threaten Rent Strike at Hawkridge House: Press Release

UCLU have put out a press release about the situation at Hawkridge House. Here is the full text and pictures from the site.

Solidarity with students at Hawkridge in their struggle for respect and dignity from UCL!

Full text here:

UCL STUDENTS THREATEN RENT STRIKE IN FACE OF ACCOMMODATION CHAOS AND COLLEGE DISREGARD

PHONE: 07459035236

As exams approach, over 230 students at UCL’s Hawkridge House in Chalk Farm are determined to force their College to end disruptive constructions works and pay compensation by withholding rent. More than half of all residents have already written to UCL demanding a refund and the students’ union is pushing management to fully comply with students’ requirements as patience runs low.

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Since February, residents at Hawkridge, predominately overseas postgraduate students, have seen their homes transformed into a construction site as UCL – who charge £132.20 per week for a single room – erected scaffolding on all sides of their 14-story tower block . Early morning drilling, dusty rooms and a lack of sunlight and privacy have since been the norm, causing stress and health issues and leaving students unable to revise in their rooms.

When rooms were advertised last summer there was no mention of scaffolding or construction and when residents moved in in September where were told that works would be over by January. In their last communication to students, UCL have stated that works could continue until 26 April.

The only notice given of planned works before students moved in. A promise broken three months ago.
The only notice given of planned works before students moved in. A promise broken three months ago.

It was only after formal meeting between UCL managers and UCL Union representatives on 27 March that any mitigating measures were taken by the College. However, the management concession to place more desks in the silent study are on site was deemed inadequate by residents and the Union, who are maintaining their demands for an immediate halt to construction works and full compensation for the College’s breech of their contract.

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Belen Desmaison, a postgraduate student from Peru is asthmatic and has suffered because of dust from constructions and was struck by migraines as a result of not being able to open her window. She said that, “the fact that I have to close my curtains so that construction workers don’t see me sleeping or changing my clothes does not only mean that my view is ruined but that I now live without natural light from Monday to Friday.” She also described drilling noises as “unbearable”.

David Dahlborn, the elected Halls Accommodation Representative at UCL Union said: “Students at Hawkridge have been completely neglected by general management. It makes me furious that once again UCL have put their profit interests above the needs of students, potentially ruining the degrees of many people who have come here to study by falsely marketing rooms which are not fit for habitation. It’s time residents here were taken seriously rather than exploited and side-lined.”

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UCL Union is now advising residents to withhold rent payments until there are reliable assurances from UCL that compensation will be paid and that construction will end until the end of exams.

For the past five years, UCL has increased the rent in their accommodation by up to 5% per year. A room at Hawkridge House cost £127 in 2013/14, when there was no construction work. Recently, there have been protests by UCL students against planned rent increases, including a flash occupation of the Provost’s balcony.

The Union has handed out information about students' rights in English and Mandarin Chinese.
The Union has handed out information about students’ rights in English and Mandarin Chinese.

Stop UCL’s Rent Hike!

Free education is about more than just cutting tuition fees. The cost of rent is currently on of the largest barriers for prospective students, particularly in London, and even for those of us who pay to live in London the price will be a debt that will chain us for most of our adult lives. UCL Accommodation have now made it clear that they will be making the situation worse for many students here by pushing on with their planned rent increases and refusing to even ask UCL for an expanded budget for student accommodation

But this week we are fighting back!

There will be a meeting to plan and organise a united campaign to force UCL management to change their priorities and stop their relentless exploitation of students in halls. This is the first time for many years (if ever) that a similar campaign against the callous landlords of UCL has been undertaken on campus, and it might be the moment when the tables turn in favour of students’ interests and not the bosses’ surreptitious plans.

Join in what might become a historic campaign! Find all the details for the meeting here.

Affordable Accommodation, Accessible Education - A banner from the UCL Camden RENTS Campaign.
Affordable Accommodation, Accessible Education – A banner from the UCL Camden RENTS Campaign.

Free Education!
No rent exploitation!

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