OUSU to fight for college rent freeze

Alex Moss

OUSU Council has passed a motion to encourage colleges to reconsider the way rents for student accommodation are calculated and charged.

The motion, which was proposed by OUSU President David Barclay on Wednesday, seeks to encourage colleges to make rent as cheap as possible to facilitate access for students from less afluent backgrounds. Currently most colleges operate under a policy that sets rents at a level at which they neither make a profit or a loss, but only cover the cost of maintenance.

Barclay said that while OUSU could not participate directly in rent negotiations between individual College administrations and Common Rooms, he hoped that the motion would “set the tone” for future debate on the cost of living for students. He added that there is a need for a “new look at how affordable Oxford is.”

Following a successful campaign in Hilary Term against a University policy that would have reduced the amount given to students from the lowest economic backgrounds to cover living expenses, Barclay is calling for a similar approach to college rents.

Barclay went on to comment that there are currently some “fairly shocking disparities” in rents paid by students at different colleges across the University. Students at Wadham enjoyed the lowest cost of living in college for the year 2009/10 at 11.14 percent below the median.

While the average cost in 2010 of a single room for an undergraduate across the Oxford’s 31 colleges was £ 2979.87 per year, students at Teddy Hall paid almost £530 more in the same year.

Teddy Hall JCR President Joshua Coulson commented, “we are aware that Teddy Hall has the highest rent charge in the University, and this one of the key issues that we are looking into this term. Along with a few members of the JCR Committee, I will arrange a meeting with the Home Bursar to highlight this fact, especially in light of the planned increased in tuition fees.

He added, however, that he could not say what the College response would be. He did state that “access remains an issue the JCR is keen to work on, and we hope that this will not deter potential candidates from applying to Teddy Hall.”

The average cost of accommodation at Jesus, which ranked as the eleventh most expensive college by the cost of rent, rose 7.13% in 2009/10 on the rates charged in 2008/09, while the average cost across all colleges increased over the same period by only 4.16%.

Shahpur Patel, Home Bursar at Jesus, commented that accommodation was only one part of the total cost for students, and that charges for food and other amenities should be considered in any comparison. He added that the College significantly subsidises other costs of its members.

Dan Wainwright, JCR President of Brasenose, which is currently ranked as the fourth most expensive college for accommodation costs, claimed that higher rents would not deter prospective applicants. He commented, “Like many colleges, Brasenose runs a band system for rooms, and our lowest priced rooms are the second lowest across the whole university.

“This means no-one ends up being priced out of rooms. Although there is virtue in charging the same for all rooms, I believe most students prefer to be given the choice about how to spend their money, and by offering rooms across a range of prices, that’s exactly the choice we give them.”