Students across Oxford are paying rents to live in college accommodation that vary by more than £1,000 a year in the clearest signs yet of the so-called “college lottery”.
An investigation by The Oxford Student has also revealed that rooms can vary wildly in price and quality within the same college, leading to “ghettos”, with some students unable to afford access to areas of the college.
The cheapest college for undergraduate accommodation is Wadham, offering rooms at an average rent of £2,610 per year, more than £1,000 cheaper than the most expensive college – Pembroke, which charges £3,627 a year.
Graham Healy-Day, Wadham Students’ Union President, praised the work of students and the college in the rent negotiations.
“College should take pride in this, but I think they find it difficult to maintain. The important thing is to keep Wadham’s reputation for being egalitarian and iaiify priced amongst other Oxford colleges,” he said.
The most expensive colleges include Trinity, at an average of £3,544 to live on-site, Teddy Hall at £3,426 and Brasenose at £3,343. These prices cover 175 nights worth of accommodation, and exclude prices for food.
Nearer the bottom of the scale, students at Catz (£2,816), Meiton (£2,776) and Hertford (£2,801) can be more than £500 better off over the course of a year than their fellow Oxford students – despite repeated assurances from the University that college choice doesn’t impact on students’ experience.
OUSU President Stefan Baskerville said that these figures could well influence which colleges prospective students apply to.
“Many students come to Oxford without knowing that there are significant differences in rent between colleges. In the context of the real terms reduction in student loans this year, costs will be an increasingly important lactor for students when deciding where to apply,” he said.
Since a large proportion of colleges actually charge a range of prices for accommodation, the average price is often unhelpful for establishing students’ cost of living.
John Church, Pembroke’s Bursar, was unhappy with the tag “most expensive college in Oxford,” pointing outthat much cheaper rooms are available for some students.
“Pembroke’s rents are not, in fact, the highest. We offer a range of accommodation at a range of prices – from as little as £808 per term… We think it is fairest to offer a range and let students decide how to spend their money,” he said.
JCR President Ramya Arnold also defended Pembroke’s system of room selection, saying: “Pembroke’s banded system means that there is very affordable accommodation available to anyone – often far cheaper than colleges with a flat-rate system – with the minimum quality still being quite high.
This also allows for the fact that students prioritise different things within their budgets.”
Not all colleges offer such choice to students. Wadham, for example, charges the same rate to all undergraduates.
Healy-Day said: ‘This is a deliberately egalitarian policy, and something that we are very proud of.”
He added: “Having an equal room charge… keeps the focus on people’s relationships with one another, rather than on their financial background.”
Other colleges which have a policy of charging a flat rate for undergraduate accommodation include St. Catherine’s College, Magdalen College and St Edmund Hall.
Students have expressed their satisfaction with the flat rate system.
Charlie Wilson, Teddy Hall JCRPresident, said: “I would say it’s a simple and fair system, and I think it’s widely viewed as such within the college.”
While accommodation costs appear to indicate striking differences between college costs of living, bursars emphasise the importance of also taking into consideration food prices.
Martin Jackson, St Anne’s Bursar, said: “At the last survey St Anne’s was sixth in terms of accommodation costs, but fifteenth for food… It is important not to see accommodation as a single entity. Food and accommodation should be linked.”
At University College, where undergraduates can expect to pay an average of only £2,894 on rent, meal costs can tot up to £ 11.20 per day, according to their online student finance guide.
At Magdalen on the other hand, where the accommodation costs hit an eye-watering £3,230 for 2009/10, students fork out a less painful £8 a day for three meals in Hall. Taking food costs into account a year at Magdalen therefore works out at around £200 cheaper, despite the apparently high room rates.
According to Alice Heath, University College JCR President, the high food prices reflect the qualify of food, but can be problematic for students on low budgets.
“The food is excellent, but students can’t afford to spend on £11.20 a day on food, and I know many people – myself included – have stopped eating in Hall because it is simply too expensive,” she said.
Charlotte Carnegie, OUSUs Rent and Accommodation Officer, said that rent was an important measure of value for money.