The price of rent in College-owned halls is set to increase again this year, with the student union acting in a consultation role with students.
The College’s total necessary revenue from halls rent is increasing by 12.2% in just one year in order to match a break-even model, in which revenue exactly offsets the cost of running halls. This amounts to approximately £22 million being generated in revenue per year at the new prices just from halls rent, based on calculations using data from a Union Council paper. The increase is due to new costs included in the break-even model that were not included in previous years – in other words, from next year new students will be being charged for services as part of their halls rent that their predecessors did not have to pay towards.
This breakeven condition currently acts as a strong constraint on the negotiations; the options of the Union in their consultation role is primarily to decide how the price hike will be distributed across different halls.
The renegotiation precedes the opening of the new Kemp Porter halls in Acton, adjacent to Woodward and featuring functionally identical rooms. The opening of the new hall, featuring over 700 bedspaces, will shift half of all first-year students to Acton, with the distribution of first-year students between South Kensington and Acton halls becoming 51% to 49% respectively - as opposed to 73% to 27% in the 2019⁄20 year.
The Deputy President (Welfare) and Union President will be taking the issue to Union Council on Tuesday 3rd December, which will be held in Sherfield’s Read lecture theatre at 7pm and to which they have strongly encouraged any and all students to attend. The paper they have prepared outlines four initial options as a starting point for discussion, though the Council can decide to reject all four.
At the last rent negotiation prior to the opening of Woodward in 2015⁄16, the Union Council decided to set a ratio of 2:1 in terms of cost per square metre between South Kensington and Acton halls, with the justification being that it ensured a set of affordable halls for a quarter of students in Acton on a “subsidy” basis from the remaining three-quarters of students in South Kensington. However, the shift in student distribution means a discussion about the degree of subsidy needs to be revisited.
This is the basis of the major differences between the four options proposed in the paper – in essence, whether to continue the practice of charging a 2:1 ratio and applying a flat 12.2% price hike across all halls, or shifting that ratio to either a greater or lesser extreme. Subsidising the Acton halls ensures affordable halls and accessibility to the university, whereas a vote to flatten prices reduces the growing problem of social segregation in the College community.
The four options also work on the basis of some initial suggestions, such as keeping the cost of Kemp Porter and Woodward the same, as well as evening the cost between Southside and Eastside halls in Prince’s Gardens.
A noteworthy point in the Council paper is that the option also exists to reject the break-even model entirely, at which point the process would stop while the Union re-approached the College to determine next steps. Some students are already calling for the College to subsidise halls from other revenue streams rather than continue to work on a break-even basis.
Regardless of which option one would choose, the prices of halls are reaching a crux point. They are no longer much, if any, cheaper than private accommodation. The College provides a cost breakdown for budgeting for new students on their website, which itself states that the average cost for halls of residence and private accommodation only differ by £1.31 per week. As an alternate metric: the proposed new prices for a single ensuite room in Beit – the type of room for which they have the most bedspaces – are around £260 a week. Spareroom provides average rental prices by postcode, and SW7’s is between £230 and £300 – a search for properties in a more specific area local to the South Kensington campus yields multiple results in the £260 region. The same applies for the Acton halls.
Though halls provide social opportunities that are beneficial for new students, the cost of paying enough to reach the break-even point at the College is apparently equivalent to the cost of paying for the profit of a private landlord.
Felix will report on the results of the Union Council meeting in the final issue of term (1729).