7th October 2014

University halls “too expensive”

92% of University of Manchester students believe that the university’s provision of halls of residence is too expensive. The Mancunion interviewed Community Officer Ellen McLaughlin with the redevelopment of the Fallowfield campus in mind.
University halls “too expensive”
Rents are climbing even before the Fallowfield campus regeneration. They can only increase further. Photo: The Mancunion

A recent poll by the Students’ Union decided that the University of Manchester’s halls of residence are too expensive, with an overwhelming majority of 92 per cent.

Only 1 per cent of respondents believed that the average rent of uncatered halls, which currently stands at £120 per week, was cheap; a mere 7 per cent thought it reasonable.

The Mancunion spoke with Ellen McLaughlin, Community Officer of the Students’ Union. She said, “I’m surprised it was so excessively in favour of halls being too expensive. I thought that it would be the outcome but I was not expecting the support to be so high.”

In response, a University of Manchester spokesman said, “Rental costs for University of Manchester halls of residence are set annually and are comparable to those charged by other universities, both locally and nationally.”

Ellen added, “I think it’s too expensive and I have spent a lot of time researching the provision of university accommodation. I have the same concerns as the NUS.”

The NUS has recently published The Accommodation Costs Survey (2012/13). Within this report the delegate made a series of observations and recommendations.

According to the report, since 2009/10, lower cost rooms at halls of residences have had their rent increased by 23 per cent.

The average weekly rent has also risen in the past five years by 25 per cent. The report attributes this to rising rents and the rising demand for luxury accommodation including en suite facilities.

A University of Manchester spokesman added, “the University offers a wide variety of accommodation across its provision of 8000 bedrooms, including standard and en-suite, catered and non-catered, giving students an extensive choice to suit varying budgets and residential preferences.”

The climbing rents have not been matched by increased financial support. The Student Loans Company for England’s financial assistance rises at a rate lower than inflation year on year, which compounds the difficulty of rising rents.

Because of these financial pressures, the report states that one fifth of students nationally are working more than 20 hours per week in order to support themselves during their studies.

Ellen added, “I am concerned about halls of residence becoming inaccessible to students who need more financial support than is currently available.”

With the redevelopment of halls of residence in Fallowfield expected to begin next September and increased demand for luxury facilities it is expected that the accommodation constructed will exceed the 2013/14 price of £88 per week for a room in Oak House.

The report also recommends that universities should take note of students’ choices; indeed, Oak House was the most popular first, second, and third preference amongst this year’s first-years.

Oak House is the university’s cheapest accommodation and would suggest a higher demand for cheaper accommodation than for luxury facilities.

The NUS report further endorsed the suggestion that 25 per cent of rents should be affordable, which the report defines as being in the bottom or lower quartile.

“They told me they are going to benchmark the prices against the hall of residence provision nationwide,” added Ellen.

Whilst the NUS report states that student representatives should be actively engaged and consulted during the rent setting process and planning for future development, Ellen added “I have had a poor response from the university; it’s all confidential, they say.

“I have raised concerns to the senior management about the lack of provision of cheaper accommodation. I am really worried about a two-tiered student experience.

“I fear that one group of students who can afford halls will have access to the pastoral care, events, and other benefits that come with living in university accommodation.

“The other group will be forced into private accommodation that is much cheaper, and they will be open to the private system and its associated issues, which will be less safe.

“The possibility of higher rents may put students off the University of Manchester, and they may choose to study elsewhere.”

The redevelopment of the Fallowfield campus is expected to be part-owned by the university and part-owned by a private company. Potentially this could lead to profit being made by a private sector from University of Manchester students.

The Mancunion has seen the summary report authored by Ellen, which she will send to the university’s senior management.

“The findings of the poll support the concerns I have raised to the university,” she said.

The Mancunion is investigating the price of university accommodation at universities across the nation and has reached out to all of the Russell Group universities for information regarding their average rents—they are all yet to comment.

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