This is the first of a series of ‘myth-busting’ articles about UCL’s polices that will seek to provide students with arguments to debunk management opposition to cutting the rent in student accommodation. Ok, let’s deal with the big myth first, head on:
In a letter to the Cut The Rent Campaign in March 2015, Vice Provost Rex Knight claimed that students in UCL accommodation ‘need to generate a contribution.’ By this he meant that that the annual income from our rents needs to be higher than the running costs of the halls. Furthermore, he argues, the surplus needs to increase every year. He wants the surplus to rise from just below £10m to £15m between 2014 and 2016 alone. This is a rise from a surplus of around £5m in 2009 (see graph). In 2014 UCL’s total income from rent was £31m and in 2016 it’s expected to be £34m. In other words, we can expect that between 2014 and 2016 32-44% of our rent won’t pay for the running costs of halls but for capital investment.
The claim that this money has to come out of students’ pockets is a myth.
Investment to improve the standards of halls is solely needed. However, the problem is that the money for these future redevelopments has been taken from students by raising rents at a rate far higher than inflation. Not only will students never see the benefits of the surplus we are generating but we are also paying more, proportionately and in real terms, every year. As a result, a huge number of rooms at UCL are now completely unaffordable.
Does UCL have other option than to exploit students in this way? Of course they do.
UCL has a lot of money. Over the next few year management want to increase the university’s overall surplus from 2.5 to 5.5% – sending an additional £47m going into the coffers every year. This is so that UCL can fulfil huge investments in new campus buildings. Between now and 2025 the bosses are planning to invest over £1bn in new facilities in Bloomsbury and Stratford. In principle there’s nothing wrong with these investments – because management decided to drastically increase student numbers we need more space. But it proves that for management raising the rent for students is not a must, it’s a matter of priorities. UCL could reduce the rate of its billion pound investments by 0.01% and afford to cut our rent by 40% if they wanted to. They chose not to, and no students were involved in making this decision.
To give another example of how management priorities to use our resources: In 2013 there were 377 members of the upper echelons of UCL staff and management who with salaries ranging between £100,000 and £320,000 per year, according to the university’s 2014 annual financial statement. At the time, 377 people represented slightly less than 4% of the entire UCL staff body. Roughly, they all received between 6 and 18 times more money than a university cleaner in a year. The combined cost to UCL for paying salaries to these 377 people was at least £51,640,000.*
A year later, the number of top staff and bosses earning over £100,000 had increased to 429, and top incomes rose to £350,000. All-in-all, the cost of paying these salaries went up by at least £7.5m, to at least £59,150,000. During the same period, rents for students went up by around 5%. Students became more exploited at the same time as those earning above £100,000 were paid more.
Compare these sums to the income and the surplus generated from students’ rent. Between 2014 and 2015 the UCL predicted an increase in the income from student accommodation by about £2m, from £31m to £33m. This meant yet another above-inflation rent increase for students. However, what these statistics demonstrate is that if UCL had frozen (not cut) the money they put into management pay in 2013, they could have instantly slashed rents by 24%, rather than increase them the following year.
The point here is not to say that there is a dichotomy between estates investment and student rents, or between management pay and student rents. Rather, it is to point out that the UCL has the money to cut rents for students if they wanted to, were they to rebalance their budgets. Student accommodation does not necessarily have to generate a surplus in order for UCL to keep improving standards in halls – it’s a matter of priorities. What we can conclude is that UCL is currently prioritising higher rents for students and higher pay for managers and that no students were involved in setting out these priorities.
Now the field is open to agree or disagree with these priorities.
You can get involved in the ‘UCL, Cut the Rent’ Campaign at the next planning meeting on Wednesday. Full details here.
* The statistics available do not reveal the exact amount every top staff member was paid, only the income brackets and the amount of people on salaries within these brackets. Therefore all calculations are conservative, estimating that all high-earners in one bracket receive the lowest salary in that bracket. All of the 68 people who earned between £100,000 and £110,000 in 2013 are assumed to have been paid £100,000. This is why all totals are labelled ‘at least.’
By David Dahlborn, UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
After shutting down debate at the last UCLU General Assembly when his side failed to win a political argument, Gabriel Gavin wrote an article for Pi to justify himself, in which he covers up his lack of arguments by throwing playground insults at me and others. Ahead of the next session of the General Assembly I’d like to take the opportunity to respond, and present my case for why UCLU should remain a campaigning organisation that stands up for students’ needs.
Very soon, UCL management will once again increase the rent in their halls of residence by at least five percent. This rent hike will place yet another heavy burden upon students already hard-pressed to make ends meet. As a socialist who wants justice, equality and cooperation to replace exploitation, division and coercion, I find this disgusting and I will fight against it.
Why do I, as an unpaid activist and union representative, devote my evenings, lunch breaks and weekends to organising assemblies, build protests and write to UCL managers? Because, unlike the Gabriel Gavins and the Samuel Inkersoles of the world, I’ve decided to do the work actually required to concretely improve standards and conditions for students here at UCL.
Increasing rent is a political decision made by UCL bosses, who dictate how hard halls residents should be squeezed for cash. This decision will also force working class students to take on more debt and stress while in halls, if they’re lucky enough to afford university in London at all. For the past five years, UCL has consistently increased the rent far beyond the rate of inflation. The consequences of this will be felt in the pockets of students, in our mental health and among those excluded from UCL altogether simply because they weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths.
Fortunately, we have the means to help us change this – a political, representative and campaigning students’ union. Through collective action we can challenge UCL management, and UCLU is the best tool we students possess to channel our demands and focus our collective bargaining power on bring down the rent. I would be the first person to admit that UCLU has its flaws (don’t we all?), but I also stress that it’s activists like me who’re the ones taking actual steps to make it better and more representative.
There is a tendency among certain careerists, and right-wing demagogues and sabbatical officers to criticise the work that my friends, colleagues and comrades on the left are doing to improve the conditions of students at UCL. These would-be union-wreckers, clearly, either do not understand what a union is for, or are happy to see the counted attempts by the university bosses’ to exploit and oppress us but raising rent or ignoring campus racism and sexism.
The case for why this position is wrong has been made explained eloquently elsewhere. Therefore, I’m not surprised that there is also a tendency among these critics to find themselves incapable of intellectually justify their arguments. Much like a children deprived of attention by an adult, these right-wingers reverted to ignoring rational arguments, shouting loudly and spreading lies and insults. Suffice to say, none of their time has been spent on getting UCL to reduce the rent. To the contrary, efforts made by Gavin and Inkersole to axe the Education and Campaigns Officer, Women’s Officer and BME Students’ Officer would – if successful – have severely decimated the ability of UCLU to stand up for our needs.
My actions, as a socialist activist, will, in the meantime, have an actual impact on the lives and conditions of current and future UCL students. At the same time as right-wing self-publicists portray themselves as some sort of ‘voice of the masses’, while doing nothing but attack our efforts to organise ourselves as a student body, I and other activists have been organising a focused and assertive campaign to challenge the university bosses’ rent hikes. I’ve pressed UCL to financially compensate students who experienced hot water cut in halls. I’ve forced UCL to acknowledge the important of disability access in student accommodation. And, while right-wingers have happily accepted £9,000 tuitions fees, I’ve helped build a grassroots national campaign for free education. I’ve done this by engaging with students, by talking to literally hundreds of people and by representing their views and opinions. This term, I will step up the campaign against rent exploitation until UCL students have won a genuine improvement. None of these efforts to improve our material conditions would be possible without a UCLU that can be relied upon to take action for its members.
This is precisely why we need a political, campaigning students’ union that puts the material needs of its members ahead of the careers and egos the right-wingers who want to cut it. This is why we need more liberation officers, not fewer. As UCL becomes increasingly like an authoritarian government this necessity becomes ever more pressing. As UCL bulldozes our student theatre, wreaks havoc for sports clubs by timetabling lectures on Wednesday afternoons and charges us rent far above our maintenance loans, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we don’t take a stand against the bosses they will make UCL exclusive to the children of the wealthy and irreversibly damage student civil society. UCLU and I will continue to fight the rent increases and stand on the side of everybody who wants university to be available for everybody regardless of their background. I hope you will join me in this.
Tomorrow UCL Provost Michael Arthur will have earned as much in 2015 as an out-sourced cleaner here earns in an entire year, about £16,000. In order to commemorate this momentous achievement we’re organising a party for him and Everybody is invited! Find all the details here.
There will be party hats and cake for those attend the party! We hope that Mr Arthur will join us so that we can ask him how he sleeps at night and why he thinks the migrant workers who clean his office should earn little more then a living wage and not enjoy the same privileges as himself the other male, white fat cat bosses.
We should, of course prepare to shout a few chants in case he decides to stay in his office and sulk. Here’s a bit of inspiration:
“Michael Arthur [or Provost, Provost] we’ve got beef!
Pay your staff, don’t be a thief!”
“UCL, shame on you!
Pay your cleaners what they’re due!”
“Michael Arthur, you old toad,
Pay your workers what they’re owed!”
“UCL, hey hey,
Wage gaps are not OK!”
“UCL, there’s a solution;
Better income distribution!!”
Tomorrow’s protest will not only be about the unjust pay gaps between cleaners and the 1% of UCL, but also to highlight the gender and racial pay gaps at our university and to demand that workers are given a larger say over how wages are distributed. Read our demands here.
On Monday January 19th, UCL Provost Michael Arthur will have earned in 19 day what the lowest paid full-time workers at UCL – outsourced cleaners – earn in a year. Arthur earns almost 20 times as much in a year as the people who clean his office and private kitchen.
We are going to protest this grotesque inequality by holding “a party” (see link) outside the Provost’s office in the Main Wilkins building at UCL at 1pm on Monday. Everybody is invited!
At a time when our lecturers’ pensions are under threat, when many of the lowest paid workers are on outsourced contracts that force them into in appalling working conditions with few working rights, it is outrageous that the university can pretend that there’s not enough money for everybody. Michael Arthur alone in senior management gets paid £360,000+ per year
Beyond the Provost, there are 113 members of UCL staff who every year are paid more than 10 times the annual wages of a cleaner. All together they earn a combined £21.5m.
“When they say ‘rent hike’, we say ‘rent strike’!”
We don’t have to settle for these extortionate rents and terrible living conditions. At UCL halls in Camden, residents with elected reps are organising together and putting pressure on the managers to fulfil their demands. Get in touch with us to join that campaign or for help starting one in another hall.
Sadly it’s not always enough to ask nicely. UCL managers have an interest in keeping rents high and costs low. Our campaigns have to take action to force improvements.In the past, one powerful tactic has been the rent strike. Residents
collectively agree not to pay rent until an acceptable deal is reached. At Sussex University throughout 70s and 80s student rent strikes reduced rent rises and stopped low quality halls being built. 4 years ago, an Oxford college struck over fire safety.
We hope UCL managers voluntarily improve standards and cut rents. But if we have to fight, we will!