Colleges’ rent gulf revealed

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This year’s freshers face a discrepancy of up to £380 per term in rent prices.

An investigation carried out by the Oxford Student has revealed that 2013 arrivals at some colleges will pay over six pounds a day more for their accommodation than their counterparts at other colleges. The biggest difference is between the daily rents of St John’s and Lady Margaret Hall, which are the cheapest and most expensive colleges respectively.

The average daily rate of a first-year room at LMH for this Michaelmas term was found to be £21.73per day, a figure considerably undercut by St John’s average figure of £15.53. This represents the median rent paid by John’s freshers, whose most expensive choice of room costs only £979.99 over the course of the term.

Although John’s was found to be cheaper by over £1.50 per day than any other college, Oriel, Wadham and Hertford also had low rents at less than £18 a day.

At the opposite end of the scale, Magdalen, Pembroke, and Worcester revealed themselves as pricey places to live by breaking the £21 a day barrier.

Our findings reveal that St John’s freshers will be enjoying a first term average saving of £384.40 over their contemporaries at LMH, at least in terms of accommodation costs.

In response to this discovery, LMH JCR President Jonathan Chapman commented:

“The provision of accommodation at LMH, while expensive, is quite comprehensive compared to other colleges. All the rooms are single study with many being en-suites.

“We shall continue to negotiate for better rents for the undergraduate body but hope that students and future applicants realise that the superior quality of the on-site accommodation may not be taken into account by these figures.”

St John’s JCR President Shaahin Pishbin welcomed the findings, however, saying that the College found itself in a “very lucky” situation:

“The JCR works hard each year to communicate the state of student finances to College, which is generally receptive and sympathetic to the increasingly precarious economic situation of students, particularly given the recent trebling of tuition fees.

“Although, we are not immune to rent rises[…]The JCR has a good relationship with College and identifying shared priorities has helped us reach more acceptable results.”

The President of the Oriel JCR Ianthe Greenwood agreed that a key factor in keeping rents low was keeping healthy relationships with the college authorities. She also advocated encouraging the use of rooms during the vac as much as possible through measures such as attracting conferences.

“Oriel therefore can attract quite wealthy conference guests, especially from overseas, who are willing to pay premium rates to stay in an Oxford College, and this means we can keep our prices lower for students.

“[As a result,] In the room rent negotiations College were very amenable and agreed to keep any rise in inflation minimal.

“Having affordable rent is a huge priority for Oriel staff and students and reflects our broader emphasis on Access, which is something we direct a lot of efforts towards. ”

OUSU President Tom Rutland echoed these sentiments, but warned that students should not bear the cost of renovations carried out for the benefit of conference guests: “It’s incredibly important that colleges see students as members of an academic community, rather than guests at a hotel.

“As accommodation is increasingly renovated, it’s important that students don’t bear the cost of accommodation built to rake in profit during the conference bonanza in the vacations. Our message on access as a University has always been: ‘if you can get the grades, you can afford to come here’ and it’s important that this remains true and isn’t threatened by high rents.”

John’s JCR President also stated that whilst it was a myth that St John’s had “cash to burn”, its large financial endowment permitted it more flexibility than other colleges.

St John’s rent rates are revealed in the context of it being Oxford’s richest college, with the largest financial endowment of all colleges in the 2011/12 year.

Conversely, the colleges included in the study with the smallest financial endowments in the same year were Worcester and LMH, both of whom were among the three most expensive colleges in the survey.

Alfie Hinchcliffe, President of the Worcester JCR stated that their ranking in rent costs “clearly reflects badly on Worcester”.

“Rent prices at this level seriously risks undermining what makes our college so special.

“This college has historically had a very good reputation for access and the quality of its education. Now that accommodation is so expensive Worcester runs a serious risk of excluding not just the poorest students but the so-called “squeezed middle” as well.”

Worcester Bursar Tim Lightfoot responded by defending the College’s record on access issues:

“Worcester College has an enviable reputation for providing access to students regardless of their financial position and where appropriate will continue to provide the necessary support.

“Worcester College has this year conducted a full and extensive structural review of its student accommodation and associated charges.  Throughout this exercise consultation has taken place with both JCR and MCR  representatives, who have added great value to the process.”

This is not to say that college wealth is necessarily a guarantor of lower prices. Although John’s large endowment may have contributed to its low rates, four out of the next five richest colleges charged rents in the highest third of results found by the study.

Certain officials have also claimed that raised rents have relieved pressure on colleges even with large endowments, including New College Bursar David Palfreyman:

“Part of the extra rent relieved the burden on Endowment, which allowed us to start to pick up a £20m tab for staircase refurbing (central-heating, en suites – yes, even in the mid-1990s, New College lacked central-heating!)”

Permanent private halls and mature colleges were also not included in the investigation. However, the daily £25.71 charged to Harris Manchester first years all of whom are aged at least 21 dwarfed even LMH by just under £250 for a term’s rent.

The study focused on the amount freshers at separate colleges would actually have to spend on average specifically on room rents. Catering levies and other food costs often combined with rent charges in college battels were discounted, although the costs of basic utilities were included in the final outcome.

Unless a college specified otherwise, the length of the term was taken to be 62 days, a figure representing the length of the official Oxford term combined with Fresher’s Week.

Not all freshers regarded paying relatively high rents as something to take issue with, however. Robert Harris, a fresher at New College, quipped:

“The news actually makes me happy[…]it reflects the fact that New College has a very high standard of accommodation, reaffirming its place as undeniably the best college.”

A lack of access to reliable data has meant that Trinity and Keble colleges are unfortunately unable to be included in the study.

For a list of the daily and weekly rates charged to Freshers this term, please click here.