UCL borrows record amount to expand London campuses

UCL borrows record amount to expand London campuses

UCL has agreed to borrow £280m – the largest amount ever loaned to any university – from the European Investment Bank to develop its Bloomsbury and Stratford campuses.

This is the latest in a series of ambitious developments the university has undertaken, which include its announcement of the new campus to be built on the site of the former Olympic village in December 2014 and the opening of UCL Qatar in 2012.

The loan will cover a 30-year period, and the funds will go towards expanding the historical buildings on UCL’s main Bloomsbury site as well as the construction of the new UCL East campus in Stratford, which is set to open in 2019 with over 50,000 sq. ft of facilities.

However, it is only a fraction of the £1.25bn total that the university plans to invest in its various London developments over the next 10 years. Furthermore, this marks the biggest construction project to have taken place at UCL since the main campus was established in 1826.

UCL is not the only university to be embarking on an ambitious programme of site upgrades: KCL  have recently refurbished a group of buildings adjacent to its main Strand campus, including the former home of the BBC World Service. Similarly, Imperial are developing a brand new second campus at White City in west London.

One reason why UCL appear keen to develop its facilities at such an alarming rate may be the rise in university profits from international students who pay up to twice the fees of UK students. According to figures published in the Financial Times, UCL is set to receive almost £4.6bn a year from international students alone by 2017-18, while the amount for 2013-14 was £3.3bn.

UCL’s student population has also risen to 35,000 during the past seven years. Currently, international students make up well over a third of the student body.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost, said:

“UCL is proud of its world-class teaching and research and this support from the European Investment Bank will help us deliver our ambitious growth plans, enhancing facilities for students and allowing our academics to continue to tackle key global research challenges.”

He added to the FT:

“It gives us something we haven’t had for a long time — which is spare land and spare space.”

In light of the ongoing student rent strikes at UCL, these comments fails to account for the many students who can barely afford to live in university-owned student halls.

UCL controversially runs its student accommodation at an annual 45% profit margin that amounts to almost £15.8m, as revealed by official documents recently leaked by student journalist Becky Pinnington. Since 2009, the median student rent charged by UCL has increased by 56%.

Currently, over 500 students are participating in the UCL rent strike, collectively withholding over £1m worth of rent. They are demanding an immediate 40% reduction in rent and a ‘social rent policy’ from the university. Students have found that UCL management have consistently dismissed their concerns; in March, the UCL Director of Estates remarked that “Some people just simply cannot afford to study in London and that is just a fact of life.”

Becky Pinnington said:

“UCL’s newfound transparency surrounding their financial dealings is different from its previous stance, where it has not felt the need to disclose vital information – such as the extortionate amount of profit it makes from rent – to students. The university must ensure that all information on financial proceedings that affect its students is available to the public.”

Featured image: Wikimedia commons

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