Whilst the report did recognise that alongside higher prices, the standard of student accommodation has improved, affordability remains a concern. The proportion of ensuites has risen from 48% in 2009/10 to 58% in 2018, and studios from 4% in 2012/13 to 9% in 2018/19. Meanwhile standard rooms with shared facilities have declined from 24 to 17% since 2012/13.
The report recommended that: “The OfS should examine the cost of student accommodation more closely and work with students and providers to improve the quality and consistency of data about costs, rents, profits and quality.” This includes “Devis[ing] appropriate benchmarks for the proportion of maintenance support spent by students on accommodation”.
Alongside soaring accommodation costs, there has been a growing movement of student activists holding their universities to account.
Rent Strike, an activist network, involves universities from across the UK; this includes Cut the Rent campaigns by UCL, Bristol and Sheffield amongst overs. On the 16th October this year, Rent Strike called a Day of Action against unaffordable rents. There is not currently a Cut the Rent campaign at Newcastle.
Clementine Boucher, a core activist at Rent Strike, said:
“Students have accumulated so much debt and their quality of life has deteriorated so much it was impossible not to notice, they are really angry, frustrated and depressed by the situation. The group is building every year, so we are getting more campaigns, and more wins.”
Student activists at Liverpool University last year successfully pressurised the University over plans to raise rents to an average of £158 a week, after extensively refurbishing its accommodation. Liverpool University agreed to bursaries for the 25% of students with the lowest household income as of September this year.
Rory Hughes, the former student union President who led the campaign, said at the time:
“Living in halls would cost you twice as much a week as living in the private housing sector…It’s almost all ensuite, it’s very hotel-esque, very swish accommodation.”
Boucher commented that Liverpool was not an unusual case, “It’s a stealth-like approach to take affordable accommodation and turn it into luxury halls, and students have no other option.”
For 2019, Newcastle University accommodation ranged from £84.14 per week for a self-catered room with a shared bathroom at St Mary’s, to £175.63 for a catered room with en suite facilities at Castle Leazes (that’s £6,404.44 a year.)
all of Newcastle University’s accommodation prices are higher than the average university accommodation rent across the UK
Apart from St Mary’s College, all of Newcastle University’s accommodation prices are higher than the average university accommodation rent across the UK, which falls at £87 a week, equalling £3480 a year.
Park View is the university’s newest build, and caters for the largest proportion of first years; excluding the even more expensive studios, their rooms cost £137.13 a week (at an annual rate of £5,485.20)
These prices come as student maintenance loans range from the minimum of £3928 (for parents earning over £62,187) to £8430 (for those with a household income below £25000.) Thus, the lowest loan does not cover the cost of the majority of Newcastle University’s accommodation options.
Save the Student’s National Student Accommodation Survey 2018 found that 44% of students struggle to keep up with rent
Upon the building of Park View, in 2018, Twitter user @STEPHsowersby tweeted “Just looked at a new block of luxury student accommodation at Newcastle University £140PW, replacing the famous Ricky Road, shocked at how much costs have risen since 2013! Should students really be paying that when private accommodation is between 60-90PW #Universities #Students”.
Save the Student’s National Student Accommodation Survey 2018 found that 44% of students struggle to keep up with rent; additionally, the cost of accommodation affected 45% of students’ mental health and 31% of their studies.