“Extortionate” – anger as campus rent surges by up to £249

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Photo taken by James Gilmour

There was widespread anger among students today as Lancaster University unveiled plans to push on campus rents up to an unprecedented level. By increasing rent by 4% during the next year, or up to £249, the University is increasing rents faster than the rate of inflation with implications for students real-term spending power.

The Lancaster University Students’ Union launched a campaign today to counter the changes under the banner of #paymoregetless. Setting up a stall in Alex Square with £249 worth of pasta, a strong visual display of the real term cost of the rise on students, the Union urged students to make their voices heard by contacting Vice-Chancellor Mark E. Smith. In a press release the Union claimed the rent increase “could pay for return flights to Egypt.”

“This decision comes hot on the heels of wide-ranging spending cuts across the university, including a reduction in the annual block grant paid to the Union to provide services to students.

With cost of living going up and university spending going down, the message to you is clear: Pay more, get less.

A universal 4% increase would see the cost of the University’s mid-range accommodation, the Grizedale Townhouse, rise from £119 to £124 per week. It would also leave Bowland’s Basic Standard as the only on campus accommodation with a weekly rent lower than £100.

Inflation, the measure of the cost of goods and services and a proxy for value of the pound in your pocket, sits at 3% following the recent collapse in value of the pound. The increase easily breaches inflation, meaning a real term erosion of student spending power.

In the last year the maximum student loan rose by £230. If replicated this year, the rent increase could wipe out that surplus by itself. This could leave students facing goods and services 3% more expensive than in the previous year with no extra income to compensate.

One second year student branded the inflation-busting increase “extortionate” and wondered if the rise might dissuade them from moving back to campus in their third year.

Another argued that the University was misusing its unique “position of monopoly. As the sole provider of first year accommodation, it can’t go around acting like a one-man cartel.”

During their election campaigns the three University ward councillors pledged to tackle “rip-off rents”. Speaking to SCAN, Councillor Lucy Atkinson has promised to work with the Union to oppose the increase.

“We’re deeply disappointed at the proposed rent rise and will be liasing with the Union to try and deal with the issue. We’d encourage anyone concerned about the issue to sign the petition”

The University released a statement defending the rise:

“Lancaster University has some of the best student accommodation in the UK, taking the title of Best University Halls in the National Student Housing Awards for seven of the last eight years.

In order to maintain the quality expected by our students, we need to continually reinvest
in the buildings themselves and also the numerous services they require –  ranging from
portering and security to cleaning and utility costs.

These costs have been rising and it has been necessary to bring about an increase in student rent to reflect that cost.
Rent at Lancaster University remains lower than similar accommodation offered at other
comparator universities and in private halls”