Trinity rage at rent plans

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ChihwiedavidliuTrinity College has announced that incoming freshers will be subjected to differential pricing for room rents in spite of opposition from students.

The JCR held an Extraordinary General Meeting on Monday of 6th week to discuss their position on the change. According to the minutes of that meeting, JCR President Andrew Butler explained that the College has declared the decision  is “not up for negotiation”.

The minutes also state the belief that the new system will likely consist of five pricing bands from £894 up to £1511.

In a statement, Butler complained that he was not consulted: “Most disappointing to the student body is the lack of consultation before this policy was implemented. It was discussed in the reserved section of the College’s governing body meeting, which sees the JCR and MCR Presidents leave the room.

“Although the student body has been consulted in the previous two years about differential pricing – with opposition measuring 74 percent two years ago and 68 percent last year – this year’s student body and JCR committee were not consulted.”

Despite the lack of initial consultation, Butler circulated an online survey aimed at canvassing opinion among Trinity students. Of the 139 students that responded, 72 percent were against the change while only 22 percent were in favour. 77 percent believed that differential pricing would cause social segregation.

However, Butler added: “19 percent of students said their financial situation would be significantly improved by differential pricing, which is quite a notable proportion.”

At present, students who live on-site within the College pay a flat rate of £1256.54, which is one of the highest average rates of all colleges at Oxford.

College authorities claim that the new band of cheaper rooms will encourage more prospective applicants from poorer backgrounds to apply to Trinity.

Trinity’s Estates Bursar Kevin Knott, who is responsible for accommodation pricing, said: “The College has, for many years, charged differential rents on its outside properties.

“Given the variety of accommodation on the main site and the desirability of giving students the choice as to how they spend their funds, whether on accommodation or otherwise, the same approach is to be introduced for the main Broad Street site.”

He added: “Constructive discussions are ongoing with the student body about the approach, including the timing, to be adopted in this regard.”

Many students, however, are extremely concerned about the change. Crawford Jamieson, a first-year Theologian, said: “The way that college is laid out means that certain staircases will be more expensive than other staircases and thus the new room pricing would lead to a kind of social segregation within Trinity whereby poorer students live in one part of the college and richer students live in another, and everybody knows who is poor and who is rich. College is enforcing an ill-conceived and divisive policy on its JCR.”

There was not just concern at the policy, but also considerable disgruntlement directed at the College itself. At the Extraordinary General Meeting, claims were made that other decisions made under Knott’s purview, such as the 2011 change to utility billing, were also made without prior consultation with the JCR.

However, Butler rejected such claims: “College’s lack of consultation with students is certainly not the norm and this is a single unfortunate circumstance, but one that is disappointing nonetheless.”

Other students were angry about the way in which the decision was made. James Routley, the JCR Entz Rep, said: “We were only told about the differential pricing after it had already been approved by the Board of Directors and there was nothing that we could do.”

He continued: “When we received this news, we approached the Executive Committee to tell them that this was unacceptable, and told them that we wanted a say in the structure of the bands. It was at this point [that] we were told that the plan was to introduce the policy for the next academic year, meaning that freshers who balloted for a garden quad room could’ve ended up paying a lot more than we anticipated.”

He further explained his concerns about the implications that this would have on the College as a whole: “This is going to create a class system, which Trinity is already bad for. If they’re really concerned about access, they should increase the advertising of the generous bursaries on offer to assist students with paying their room fees.”

A second-year, who wished to remain anonymous said:  “The ‘consultation’ process was a farce. There was very much a sense amongst the students that the College had tried to sneak it past us, but our JCR President was exceptional in bringing it all to our attention and since then we have had a survey on the issue with a number of questions about it so that Andy (President) can accurately represent the JCR’s view on this at governing body meetings.”

But students did see the potential benefits of differential pricing. Alex Schymyck, a first-year PPEist, said: “Most of the JCR see the benefit of offering cheaper rooms, as we do have higher rent compared to other colleges. But there is a feeling of concern about richer students and poorer students living in different parts of the College.”

The details of pricing have yet to be finalised, although Butler noted at the meeting the concern that the College was “being slow and could try and do it when we can’t respond, e.g. during the holidays”.