Bristol University is being accused of shutting out applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, after an announcement that rents in halls will be raised from the next academic year.
Student campaign group Bristol Cut the Rent says the intended increase of 4-5% for university accommodation will cement unequal access to education, by putting an extra burden on those already struggling with the cost of attending university.
“These plans will disproportionately affect students from lower income backgrounds, and narrow an already exclusionary student body. Where is the university’s stated commitment to “widening participation”?”
Bristol has the second highest proportion of privately educated students in the country, which campaigners argue is precisely due to factors such as university rent prices.
The group, named in support of students in London also fighting rent increases, has organised a protest outside a University Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, hoping to show that students strongly oppose the increases.
Under the new plans, the average cost of a room in university accommodation will be more than £6000 for 42 weeks, making Bristol one of the most expensive places for students to live outside of London. Information compiled by Cut the Rent shows that this comes on the back of ongoing rent increases over the past four years. The following graphic shows rent hikes in a number of halls, which while catered and inclusive of bills, have increased dramatically in price since 2012 – as much as 49% in one case.
Infographic credit: Rachel Dinning, UWE journalism student
Campaigners believe that in addition to affecting poorer students these increasing prices have a knock-on effect on the local rental market, raising rents across the board. They are hoping sign up student landlords and letting agents to The “Ethical Lettings Charter” proposed by community organisers ACORN.
In an open letter to Student Union officers who had raised concerns, university Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady said:
“We have to cover the full costs of running the residencies and this has necessitated the increases in rent.”
He pointed to existing support for students with financial difficulties, and suggested a potential “accommodation bursary” to help students in need. He also said the Student Union would be formally involved in future discussions of rent costs.
“Our University does not seek to make a profit. The entire surplus generated by the University is re-invested in teaching, supporting the student experience and research and all of the student rental income is used in the running of the residences.
“I want to be as open as possible with you about how funds are generated and used, and look forward to continuing to work with you on this issue.”
A Freedom of Information Request by UWE journalism student Rachel Dinning attempted to establish how much profit the university makes from its student residences. The request was denied with the following response:
“By disclosing information requested here into the public domain, this would provide the University’s external competitors in the accommodation market with useful strategic information that would give them a commercial advantage in their costing and pricing strategies.”
Campaigners say this denial is being appealed.
“This response is wholly inadequate. Students have a right to know why they are being forced into paying ever-increasing rents, and why the university finds it necessary to make changes that will hurt poorer students.”
“This is only the first step in the fight against unfair and unaffordable rents. Ultimately, prices must be lowered, and students must have a real say in how much they pay.”