A category from Property Week’s Student Accommodation Awards has been withdrawn, after a handpicked panel of student judges refused to choose a winner in protest over increasing rent prices.
The ten students had been invited to judge a shortlist of providers in the “student experience” category of the inaugural Student Accommodation Awards. However, the judges instead criticised the entrants for their high rent costs and for pricing out poorer students, which they said was driving “the social cleansing of education”.
A study by the NUS, published in 2015 and which was cited by the panel, shows that university rent in the UK has increased by 18% over the past two years, to an average of £146 per week, which equates to a cost of £5,110 for a 35-week tenancy.
The decision was made public through an open letter released through Twitter by Jenny Killin, one of the panel judges and a welfare officer at the University of Aberdeen students’ association. The letter also pointed out that many entrants priced their cheapest rooms at £146 per week, and that many charged rents of more than £300 per week.
For the forthcoming 2017/18 academic year, a 40-Week Standard Self-Catered room in Lafrowda will cost £4,318.92, or £107.97 per week. Back in 2012/13, the same room would cost £97.86 per week, or £3,918.40, which accounts for an increase of almost 10%, or £400.52. Meanwhile, catered en-suite accommodation in Holland Hall has seen an increase of over 13%, or £944.64, (£6,298.88 to £7,266.48) across the same timespan. Whilst this is lower than the national average, it nonetheless represents a price inflation that is noticeably larger than the CPI increase of 9.47% which the UK economy has experienced over the last five years.
Speaking to The Guardian, a spokesperson for the Student Accommodation Awards stated that the judges “have sent a clear message that the industry needs to do better. In light of this, we have taken the decision to remove this category for this, our inaugural event, and review it for 2017.” The rest of the categories are to be awarded later this year, at the 9th Annual Student Student Accommodation Conference on the 7th December.
Hayden Cooper, a third-year Archaeology & Anthropology student at the University Exeter, and who had also been selected for the panel, provided us with the following statement:
The NUS’ estimates say that 85% of student maintenance payments are spent on rent. This is symptomatic of the failing of the private sector to recognise student needs. Rent prices continually rise, despite students having less money and the cost of living increasing. This is especially prevalent at Exeter given our high accommodation prices in both the uni and private sector. At Exeter Socialist students we have a clear stance on issues like this, students must come first and petty awards and trophies can be dealt with once students can afford both rent and food. This is not the case. This is also why I’m heavily involved in the campaign for a housing cooperative on campus, a campaign currently meeting a large amount of success.
Nationally we are making serious head ways with the fight for decent student rent prices, rent strikes, such as the ones kicked off by the successful ones at UCL, are sweeping across the country, and student-led housing cooperatives are gaining traction. The fight back is stronger than ever.
Earlier this year, over 1,000 students protested across London in response to the rising cost of student accommodation and the poor quality of the accommodation which is currently available. Last year, UCL paid out £400,000 in compensation for what was described “noisy, rat-infested accommodation”.
Meanwhile, Exeter students have attempted to tackle the problem of affordable housing by setting up the Exeter Student Housing Cooperative, which builds on the ideas put forward by pre-existing co-ops at other universities (such as Sheffield, Birmingham and Edinburgh) to provide cheaper costs for students, and increase links between students and the local community.
Alec James, VP Welfare & Diversity, praised the boycott, telling Exeposé that:
“The average cost of student accommodation is unacceptably high and I commend the students involved for taking a brave step in highlighting this. The cost, and quality of accommodation should not be a worry to students during their studies. I represent students on University rent-setting groups to highlight issues of affordability, whilst the Advice Unit is available for anyone having problems with accommodation” .
Alongside this, the NUS and the University College Union (UCU) are set to protest the rising cost of education through a national demonstration, which is to be held in London on the 19th November.