Due to rising rent prices in the private sector, Bristol is increasingly becoming an unaffordable city to live in for students. I am very disappointed to see that this increase is now also being reflected in University-owned residences. From 2016/17 rent prices will increase between 4 and 5% meaning that students will be paying an average of over £6000 a year in order to stay in university halls. Not only is this way above the national average but it also makes Bristol University one of the most expensive outside of London. Bristol SU’s full time officer team made our views clear by lobbying against these increases, however the University has carried on regardless.
The cost of halls has a very real impact on the wellbeing of students. If a student’s loan can barely cover their rent they will be forced to take up part time work, something that not all students have the time to do alongside their degree. Furthermore, the University is sending out a really contradictory message here. Students are being told that part time work should not exceed 15 hours a week for fear of impacting on their academic work, and yet this increase in living costs is likely to push more students into cutting down their studying time in order to supplement their loan. This is out of the question for many students with 9-5 timetables such as those in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science, making those courses especially inaccessible.
We have already seen that the cost of halls has created a divide between those from state and private school backgrounds. Currently, 45% of the residents in Stoke Bishop are from independent schools, which is certainly no surprise considering some of the most expensive halls are located there. Of course, not every student wants to stay in catered accommodation, but if we consider the price and quality of “affordable” self-catered halls such as Northwell House and University Hall, we can see that students who are less well off are getting short changed. It is infuriating that students who cannot afford nicer halls are having to put up with small living spaces, inadequate kitchen sizes and poor quality rooms. Despite this, the rent in University Hall and Northwell House are barely “affordable” either with their cheapest rooms coming in at over £100-a-week.
What makes these rent increases all the more frustrating is that we continue to see a range of benefits being given to hall wardens such as free accommodation; a luxury which students are forced to pay for through their rent. If the increases are apparently unavoidable, then surely this should be one of the first things to go.
Ultimately, this all massively contradicts the University's commitment to widening participation. Why would a student from low income backgrounds choose Bristol over other Russell Group universities if their loan can stretch further in university halls in Leeds or Manchester? We will continue to struggle to attract students from poorer backgrounds if our accommodation prices are going to put them off as soon as they arrive on an open day.
The university can and should be doing more to address the issue of the cost of living for students. This could be through reducing rents to a real, affordable standard, introducing accommodation bursaries, something that our ELA officer pushed for but was rejected by the university, or by using its influence in the city to get the council to tackle poor quality private housing. So far, I am disappointed by the lack of initiative, and I really hope to see the University taking a stronger stance on this in the future