The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper, serving Greater Manchester

Manchester’s ‘outrageous’ inflation-busting accommodation costs

- Some halls see rent jump by 20% since 2009
- Lib Dem MP calls halls costs ‘outrageous’
- Dame Nancy admits she’d ‘have a hard time justifying’ increases

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The cost of accommodation has risen dramatically at the University of Manchester, with Vice Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell saying that even she “would have a hard time justifying” rent increases of nearly 20 percent in four years.

Popular halls such as Whitworth Park, Owens Park and Woolton Hall have seen dramatic rises; with the cost of rent jumping by close to 5 percent from 2011/12 to 2012/13 and almost 20 percent in the period 2009/10 to 2012/13. The cost of a standard room with a basin at Oak House jumped by 21.6 percent from 2009/10 to 2012/13, rising from £80 pw to £97 pw.

John Leech, Liberal Democrat MP for Manchester Withington, called the rent increases “outrageous”; stating that they would “discourage working class students” from going to university.

“When everyone is facing cut backs, it is outrageous that the University is putting up rents by double the rate of inflation,” he said in a statement to The Mancunion. “The reason I opposed the introduction of tuition fees is because increased costs discourage poor and working class students, and so do above inflation rent increases. I get the feeling the University is charging what they think they can get away with, not what is reasonable.”

The University of Manchester prides itself on having the largest number of places in university-owned accommodation in the UK, with places for more than 9,200 students in halls of residence.

When asked to justify why a room in Richmond Park, which had cost a student £106 pw in 2009/10, was now £126 pw at a Q and A session at the Students’ Union two weeks ago, Dame Nancy agreed that those figures represented a significant increase, admitting, “It sounds like I’ll have quite a hard time justifying that!”

As well as above inflation rises, there are significant differences in the cost of renting a room within the same hall. At Dalton Ellis, a standard room with no basin would set you back £124 pw in 2012/13, up from £108 pw in 2009/10. This year, a room with an en-suite shower in the same hall cost £163 pw, up from £138 in 2009/10.

The cost of purpose built student accommodation has more than doubled over the last decade, according to the NUS; a development which Pete Mercer, NUS Vice-President (Welfare) called “hugely concerning”.

Speaking to The Mancunion earlier this year, NUS President Liam Burns described the rising cost of accommodation as a “massive issue”.

“Time and time again we’ve seen inflation-busting increases, and this is at a time when part-time work is much harder to find and parents have less money,” said Burns in October.

Burns’ comments illustrate that the cost of accommodation is an issue that affects students across the country.

The University of Bristol is one of a number of institutions which has seen significant ren­t increases in recent years. Badock Hall has seen a rise of 4.8 percent in just one year for a single room with no basin (from £136.50 in 2011/12 to £143.15 in 2012/13). Alice Peck, Vice President for Community at Bristol Students’ Union said she was worried that poorer students were being priced out of the more popular halls.

“Accommodation costs are rising. This would perhaps be acceptable if the maintenance grants available from the government similarly increased. At Bristol we are seeing an increasing number of students priced out of certain accommodations, often the more popular, traditional halls. Whether this will deter poorer students from applying to university is still to be seen, and something we are monitoring carefully,” she told The Mancunion.

The rent increases at Manchester mean that some University owned halls are now comparable with so called “premium” accommodation offered by private providers like Mansion Student Homes. Mansion House, situated at MMU’s All Saints campus, offers rent of £137.50 pw for a classic 3 bed ensuite flat; cheaper than some rooms offered by halls like Dalton Ellis. Bills are included in the cost, though the tenancy is 48 weeks, while most University owned accommodation is 40 weeks.

Amy, 19, has secured a place to study Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester in September. She attended an open day last month, and was “shocked” to find the University charging so much for accommodation.

“I was surprised by the prices, and was even more shocked when I heard about the increases over the last few years,” she told The Mancunion. “I really want to live in halls for the experience, but the prices are a little scary!”

This isn’t the first time student accommodation at the University of Manchester has hit the headlines. Earlier this year we reported that three residential blocks in Owens Park campus – Little Court, Green Court and The Mall - had been left empty with first year students choosing alternative accommodation.

For Students’ Union Education Officer Luke Newton the increase in fees to £9,000 has left students more conscious of the financial implications of going to University, while he worries that high rent prices have the potential to price poorer students out of the halls experience.

“With the increase in fees to £9,000 we’ve seen an increasing number of students living at home, rather than go in to private or university accommodation. So students are more conscious of the financial implications of going to university and they want to make the most of their money. High halls prices could discourage from coming to living to live in halls. The danger is that some students that can’t afford it live at home and students that can afford it live in halls; there’s potential for creating differences there,” said Mr Newton.

Sally Hulstone, a 4th year French and Spanish student, decided to stay at home in Stalybridge rather than move into halls, as she believed that they didn’t represent good value for money.

“I think halls are quite expensive for what you get. They definitely are over-priced judging by the facilities I’ve seen in my friends halls,” she said.

But Callum Millar, a first year Physics student at Manchester who lives in Canterbury Court, argued that living in halls, while expensive, is a key part of the student experience.

“When you compare the cost of halls to normal student houses, then you are being ripped off, to an extent. But a key part of halls is getting to know your fellow fist years and participating in the activities they offer,” he explained. He added that when you consider the fact that your tenancy is limited to a 40-week contract, and that bills are included in the cost of rent, the cost of halls isn’t wholly outrageous.

Asked whether, like John Leech MP, he felt that the University are just charging “what they can get away with”, Mr Newton said: “I would hope that the University aren’t charging what they think they can get away with. And I would hope that the University’s commitment to ensuring an excellent student experience would mean that they aren’t charging levels of fees that they can’t justify. I wouldn’t say the University is ripping off students, but I think it would be hard for them to justify above inflation rises.”

Despite the rising costs, the University of Manchester insisted that it was committed to providing affordable accommodation.

A statement read: “The University is committed to maintaining affordable and diverse accommodation charges. Annual increases allow for inflationary rises and the continued delivery of services to residents. All rents are assessed yearly to ensure they remain competitive, locally and nationally.”

Rent levels for 2013/14 will be announced in May.