The University’s commitment to ‘widening participation’ is being called into question after plans to increase rent by 5% in university owned accommodation.
From 2016/17 the cost of living in halls will rise to an average of over £6,000 a year. This is a rent increase far above the national average outside of London, and also above the average maintenance loan received by students, which is £3,700 a year.
The rent increase could mean that many students struggle to pay the fees or could be put off attending the University of Bristol altogether. Union officials have voiced concerns that the rent increase ‘directly contradicts the University’s commitment to widening participation’ and will ‘deter students from low and middle incomes from applying.’
— Tom Phipps (@thomas_phipps) April 26, 2016
‘Those who do apply will be forced to take up the rooms in cheaper halls that are often neglected when it come to refurbishment. Furthermore, while students are being asked to pick up the bill, hall wardens continue to receive free accommodation.’
In Stoke Bishop, the most expensive halls – Wills Hall – will cost students £7,405.86 per year, whilst the least expensive – University Hall – will set back students £4,474.68 per year. Both far exceed the average maintenance loan.
— Hannah Dualeh (@hannahdualeh) April 25, 2016
In a statement given to Epigram by the University, the institution blamed the rent increase on its efforts to become ‘cost neutral’ as well as to to ‘deliver a high quality experience for students in University accommodation’.
The statement continued, ‘[I]n the past, the accommodation fees did not cover all of the costs of running the residences, which include staffing, maintenance, security, refurbishments, catering, cleaning, pastoral care, utility charges and undergraduate bus passes.’
In recent years therefore, rents have increased to cover these costs, with the aim of being fully cost neutral by 2018.’
The rent increases mean that many students may have to turn to getting a job in order to supplement their loans and cover both rent and living costs.
In a blog post addressing the issue, Student Living Officer Sarah Redrup accused the University of ‘sending out a really contradictory message’ by raising rents and yet only recommending students work 15 hours a week.
Students would likely have to exceed this recommended maximum in order to afford the high rents.
‘This increase in living costs is likely to push more students into cutting down their studying time in order to supplement their loan. This is out of the question for many students with 9-5 timetables, such as those is medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences, making those course especially inaccessible.’
— dale (@chapmouse) April 25, 2016
Epigram spoke to one 3rd English student who has worked throughout her university career in order to supplement her loan. She said:
‘It definitely impacts my work. I simply don’t have as much time to spend on essays and reading.’
‘It feels like a bit of a ‘Catch 22’
‘If I don’t work, I can’t pay my rent and stay at university – but if I’m at my job all the time and I don’t have enough hours to spend on my studies, what’s the point of being here?’
The rent hike at Bristol University comes 3 months after student protests at UCL over unaffordable university accommodation, and who are withholding over £250,000 in rent until their demands for affordable housing are met.
The University has responded to the concerns highlighted in this article, telling Epigram:
‘The level of rent for particular residences is also influenced by other factors, including size of bedrooms, facilities, condition of the décor and whether the room is shared. For example, where facilities like common rooms, computer rooms, study rooms, music rooms and bars are provided, these need cleaning, heating, lighting, and maintenance, resulting in higher running costs.’
‘A number of rooms are capped at a lower level ‘budget’ rent, which is agreed with the Students’ Union. All University rents are also benchmarked against rents charged at other institutions and commercial accommodation providers in Bristol.’
‘We appreciate that financial management can be difficult for all students, and that accommodation is one of the significant costs that has to be met.’
‘The University provides a range of financial packages to support students from low-income households in the University, such as the University of Bristol bursary, which is automatically provided to all students who meet the qualifying household income threshold and eligibility criteria.’
‘Over the last decade, the University has invested heavily in its own hardship fund scheme, as we know there are circumstances where students require additional assistance.’
For those who are unsure of what resources exist to support students struggling financially, the University stated:
‘We provide financial advice for all students as required, via our Student Funding Office. Any students who feel they need help planning or managing their budgets, or who are in financial difficulty and want details of the means-tested Hardship Fund, should contact the Student Funding Office.’
‘Many students work part-time, which provides valuable work experience, and enhances their CVs. There are many opportunities for students to work part-time within the University, and we provide advice about finding part-time work elsewhere.’
‘We also provide guidance on the maximum number of hours students should consider working, as a sensible balance between work and study is essential.’
The Union have also started a petition against the rise in fees, which you can sign here
Are you satisfied with the University’s response to concerns over its rent hike? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or tweet us directly!