Originally published on The Debrief at: thedebrief.co.uk/news/real-life/heres-why-ucl-students-are-refusing-to-pay-rent-on-their-accommodation-20160161707
150 University of College London students are refusing to pay the rent on their student accomodation, and are demanding a 40% cut in their rents due to the ‘soaring‘ prices that many students can’t afford. They include Alex Diamond, 21, a first year Ancient Worlds student living in Max Rayne House (below).
Alex’s accommodation costs around £135 per week. His friend Miguel Domingo, another first year student studying Ancient World, said that as he gets the lowest maintenance grant he’s ‘only left with £10 a week to live on once [he] pays [his] rent.’ This is also just for some of the cheapest accommodation, with the second-cheapest jumping up to £185 per week.
As a university, UCL also get certain tax benefits, as they are exempt from VAT, points out Josh Clark, 18, studying French and German. ‘This should affect our rent, but it doesn’t,’ he explains. A petition was created over the Christmas break in response to these soaring accomodation costs, which then became official this Monday as UCL’s ‘Cut The Rent’ campaign. So far, 150 students have joined the campaign, with over 1,400 people ‘liking’ their official Facebook page.
As student loans only just cover the rent for many students, they have had to take on multiple jobs. Alex is currently working two jobs whilst also completing his degree. Nymia, 19, a History of Art student, also worked two jobs last term just so she could afford to eat. Many students usually do bar work, meaning ‘they work till 4 in the morning and then have to go to 9am lectures.’ Many students, she adds, are now ‘cracking under pressure of trying to complete a degree whilst holding down several jobs’
As Max Rayne House is one of the cheaper UCL accommodations, it tends to attract students from lower-income households. When asked if there was a divide between the rich and the poor, the students replied ‘definitely. The high costs put many poorer students off from coming.’
As the maintenance grant was recently cut, this situation is only getting worse. Alex notes how university will soon be ‘impossible if you don’t have parents to subsidise you, which doesn’t sit amazingly well alongside the UCL motto of ‘let all come who by merit deserve the most reward.’
It’s indiciative of a wider problem – and it’s not just students in London who are struggling with accommodation prices. According to the latest figures from the National Union of Students, the average rent for student accommodation has gone up 25% in the last three years, coming in at just under £123.96 a week. That tots up to £5,244 a year, which is no less than 95% of the maximum available student loan – not really leaving students much to live on.
It’s also in direct contrast to university accommodation across Europe. In Belgium, the average price for university accommodation is £205.29 per month. Then in Germany, the cost for both rent and utilities is around £226.85. Germany also scrapped their tuition fees a few years back – so a good time to be a student in Germany, but not so much in the UK.
Students claim that rent at UCL has gone up by 56% since 2009, which the university says is to match the ‘competitive price of the market’. But as Alex points out, ‘it feels like the university are just saying tough, you live in London’. And he has a point- when London is so unaffordable, even for those in full time jobs, surely UCL are missing the point? London costs seem out step with the rest of the country, as the most recent English Housing Survey figures show renters in London shell out around 72% of their earnings on rent, but in the rest of the country, it is typically only 52%.
Speaking on the Vanessa Feltz Show alongside the students this morning, Andrew Grainger, the UCL Director Of Estates, said that the students have ‘signed a contract at the end of the day’, though they don’t intend to sue them. Instead they want to ‘enter into dialogue with them’, calling the 40% reduction the students are asking for ‘not realistic’. Grainger said the rents are used to ‘improve conditions’, wih UCL being a ‘not for profit organisation.’
The strike has so far received a global response, with the story getting shared across Europe as well as all around the UK. Alex said this shows the ‘wide discontent with the current system.’ London may have been the ‘starting point’, but do these strikes signal a change in our university system? Perhaps. And if activists and grassroots campaigners like E15 and New Era have had great success in making their voices heard in the last 18 months, who’s to say these guys can’t do the same?