Cut the Rent campaign: UCL comment
29 January 2016
Finding good-quality and affordable accommodation in London is a challenge for students.
UCL well understands the concerns of the group, and I will be meeting with them in the next few days to discuss these and set out what the university is doing to keep its rents as low as possible. In the meantime, I want to give all students some further background on this issue.
Keeping rents at an affordable level is a considerable challenge for any university with a central London postcode. This is one of the most desirable locations in the world, for all of the cultural, economic and social reasons that may have influenced your decision to study here - and costs are high. As a comment article in the Guardian put it, "the problem here is not spendthrift students or a greedy university".
What is UCL doing to mitigate these challenges? The first thing to say is that we are a not-for-profit institution. This means that all the money raised from our rents is used to cover costs or to make improvements to the accommodation that we offer.
The second thing to say is that UCL rents are competitive in comparison with equivalent London institutions, and have risen more slowly in recent years. They are also far less than rates for comparable accommodation in the private sector, which currently commands 59% of the London student housing market - a percentage we do not want to see increase any further.
Our commitment to trying to hold down rents compared to the private sector has been recognised by the NUS's recent accommodation costs survey (NUS Unipol Accommodation Cost Survey 2014-2016). They commented that "UCL's efforts in this regard […] acknowledges the university's commitment to keeping a significant proportion in the lowest cost band of £120-150 a week and in not being drawn into developing very high cost accommodation".
However, we recognise that more can be done to improve student accommodation and work continues to address this. Here are the factors that we consider a priority:
Cost and affordability
These are important aspects of our accommodation offering to UCL students. Affordability forms part of the fair access to higher education agenda, which exists to ensure that students from lower income families are not excluded and are equally able to access student accommodation at UCL.
We believe that the key to affordability lies in the variety of student accommodation offered at UCL. Over 74% of all our accommodation falls below £180 a week, including 1,275 bed spaces below £150 a week, which includes all utilities, broadband and insurance. The higher rents recently quoted in media coverage are for accommodation that is within larger flats or for studios.
Accommodation is just one of the ways that UCL works to ensure higher education remains affordable for all. UCL also offers a substantial programme of bursaries and scholarships that are means-tested and can help students throughout the duration of their studies.
Student engagement and support
Student views are critical to us, both in planning future accommodation and in ensuring that our current accommodation meets your needs. We are keen to have open and honest conversations with any student who has a concern about their accommodation, whether this means discussing how the finances of UCL accommodation works, or listening to your feedback on what improvements students would like to see.
The accommodation team, in conjunction with UCLU and the Warden teams, is currently developing student forums to enable engagement on all issues around the provision of student accommodation. We want students to have their say on every aspect of student accommodation, from designs when we are building new accommodation, through to room layouts and furniture options during refurbishments.
As I mention above, we don't make a profit on rent received from student accommodation. Any surpluses we receive are reinvested to make improvements across the UCL estate, ensuring we continue to improve the conditions and increase capacity.
These improvements will have very tangible outcomes for students. As part of our accommodation improvement programme, Astor College will be redeveloped, starting in summer 2016, which will see a full refurbishment of the 238 rooms and an additional 50 rooms being built. We are also spending £6 million during this academic year to deliver improvements across student accommodation.
In addition to this, UCL has ambitious plans over the next five years to refurbish and extend a number of student accommodation residences. We will ensure that all work undertaken delivers real value for money and focuses on the areas requiring the greatest attention.
UCL takes its responsibility towards its students extremely seriously and highly values its relationship with the student body. We know that students want good-quality and affordable accommodation, and I look forward to our discussions with Cut the Rent in shaping this agenda.
Director, UCL Estates