Colleges “caused housing crisis”

One senior university professor has criticised Oxford University for their role in the Oxford housing crisis, saying that they have an “obligation” to remedy the shortage.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, a fellow at St Cross College and TV historian, told The Oxford Student that the shortage of housing in the city is “to a great extent, a problem caused by the University and Colleges themselves in modifying existing student accommodation to make it ensuite, to make such rooms viable for the conference trade, to generate revenue”. He added: “That has resulted in the amalgation of rooms.  So it is not a ‘natural’ housing shortage.”

Geography Professor Danny Dorling, fellow of St Peter’s, commented: “It is worth students today asking themselves if they could afford to live and work in Oxford in future, assuming that they secured a good job as a teacher or in a local private business. Students graduating in the year 2000 who wanted to stay living in the city or come back to work in it were in a very different situation back then.”

Many of Dorling’s publications focus on inequality and housing, including books The great divide: an analysis of housing inequality and All That is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster. Oxford University have defended their accommodation against these claims. University spokesperson Stephen Rouse commented: “The University is unapologetic about trying to ensure students are provided with good quality accommodation. It is also a priority of the University to provide accommodation for as many students as possible to ease the burden on Oxford’s housing market.”

Many colleges in Oxford use their facilities to host conferences outside of term time, including New, Magdalen and Balliol. In total 213.2 million of the University’s income comes from sources outside of grants, fees endowment and donation. This income includes conferences. Balliol charges £138.50 per day per conference delegate staying in an en-suite room, inclusive of food, conference facilities and accommodation. New College charges £124.80.

MacCulloch added that he understood colleges’ thinking behind using University accommodation for conference guests, saying: “You can’t really, in the UK, have a conference trade where you expect people to share bathing facilities, so they [the colleges] go ensuite, like hotels”.

“You have to recognise that the conference train brings in an enormous amount of revenue for colleges, which benefits students and keeps their costs down.”The issues of housing, accommodation and conferences have also been high profile in Cambridge recently, with students launching a campaign entitled ‘Whose University?’ aiming to tackle “the distinct lack of clarity about who has ownership over college spaces”.

Costs of housing in Oxford are some of the highest in the country. The Oxford County Council website states that “Oxford has overtaken London as the least affordable housing location in the UK”, further claiming that the average cost of buying a new house is “more than 11 times the average salary of an Oxford worker”.

At the time of publication, none of the college Bursars or accommodation managers responded to The Oxford Student’s requests for comment.