NUS Vice-President for Welfare Shelly Asquith has rubbished UCL’s statement on the ongoing UCL rent strike.
UCL responded to the strike last Friday after it made national headlines, with students withholding over £250,000 worth of rent until their demand of a 40% rent cut is met.
The head of UCL Estates, Andrew Grainger, said the College understands Cut The Rent’s concerns, but already struggles to maintain affordable rent prices.
Grainger pointed out that: “UCL rents are competitive in comparison with equivalent London institutions, and have risen more slowly in recent years. They are also far less than rates for comparable accommodation in the private sector, which currently commands 59% of the London student housing market – a percentage we do not want to see increase any further.”
He also stated that UCL is a not-for-profit institution, and that “all the money raised from our rents is used to cover costs or to make improvements to the accommodation that we offer”.
Following last year’s rent strike, UCL admitted conditions in Campbell House and Hawkridge House had been ‘unacceptable’. Campbell residents were awarded a term’s rent rebate (£1,368 per student), while all 238 Hawkridge residents received £1,197, and this year’s residents received a 25% rent cut.
Management were criticised for their ‘lack of empathy’ with the strikers last year, and Grainger’s statement suggests an effort made towards understanding the strike and its root causes, tackling Cut The Rent’s main points and suggesting alternatives to lowering the rent.
Campaigners have found Grainger’s arguments flawed, however, and NUS Vice-President for Welfare, Shelly Asquith, has penned an open letter to Grainger and UCL in support of the strike.
Asquith’s letter states that UCL’s lowest price band for accommodation is no more affordable than private accommodation, although Grainger had asserted that 70% of UCL rooms came at low prices. She also said UCL was not comparing like for like in this case; as halls sharing a bathroom and kitchen were not comparable to private flats, and this defence was thus redundant.
She also adds, “You will remember I wrote to you just 6 months ago demanding you meet the requests of the students campaigning for compensation, and you did. I expect this dispute to be resolved similarly, but quicker.”
Read the open letter in full:
I am writing in response to your statement on the rent strike which more than 150 students are currently taking part in.
Your defence states that accommodation prices are “far less than rates for comparable accommodation in the private sector”. This statement is incredibly disingenuous, and does not compare like for like. Rents in the Camden locale consist of private sector properties. This is incomparable with student accommodation, which takes dormitory form: local flats may cost more but they are not shared bathroom, shared kitchen.
Your statement also infers that high rents in an area excuses UCL’s decision to increase rents on properties that it owns. Student accommodation prices should not be determined by market forces, but by students’ incomes.
UCL has also used this statement to manipulate the Accommodation Costs Survey report I recently published, documenting accommodation costs across the country.
While NUS acknowledges the university has ‘kept a proportion of rooms in the lowest cost band of £120- 150 a week’, we do not believe that even this lowest band is affordable. There should be no race to the top amongst institutions. Even these rents exceed the maximum amount of student loan available – this is not affordable by any measurement used in the sector.
NUS does not endorse the rent structure of any institution referenced in the report. NUS policy on affordable student accommodation is that 25% of bed spaces provided by an institution should be charged at 50% of the maximum amount of loan/ grant. In London the maximum amount a new student (for an England domiciled student, studying in London, living away from home, on a course lasting 30 weeks and 3 days in the year, which is not the final year) is £8009. This would mean that for an institution to be providing affordable accommodation in line with NUS policy, they would need to provide 25% of their total bedspaces at £100 per week (40 week contract) or £4000 per year (rounding down).
At UCL, according to the Accommodation Costs Survey, a total of 70 bed spaces are affordable, equating to 0.8% of the total bed spaces. This could be remedied if the institution were to meet the demands of the UCL, Cut The Rent campaign and lower rents by 40%. In turn, UCL would be a university which students from a wider range of backgrounds would be able to attend.
In addition to cost, UCL has consistently failed to meet decent standards, and we have previously pointed out that the institution is breaching the code. You will remember I wrote to you just 6 months ago demanding you meet the requests of the students campaigning for compensation, and you did. I expect this dispute to be resolved similarly, but quicker.
Shelly Asquith, NUS Vice President (Welfare)
Featured image credit: Holly Philipps