There are many great halls of residences at the University, and a majority of students enjoy their stay in them. However, it has become apparent that the increasing price and amount of ‘premium’ rooms, combined with the lack of affordable rooms is creating an issue that students and RUSU find troubling.
I would also like to highlight that affordability must be a key concept with any new development, such as St Patricks Hall. There are 2,221 rooms in the premium bracket (£145+ per week) whilst there are only 1,038 in the budget below (£128 or below per week.) With this number ever decreasing it is important that we think about students who cannot afford to live in the expensive en-suite, double bed Park Group rooms. Any new halls that are built, RUSU will work hard to ensure affordability is firmly on the agenda.
Further to this hall prices have increased each year. In terms of increasing utility bills, catering and inflation, this is understandable, however, any more than this is simply unjustified. Students are concerned that they are paying more for the same service year on year.
This is why I have written a report on affordability of accommodation at the university. The report shows how students often struggle to pay the rents, eat and cover all the other costs that are associated with higher education. In the report there are breakdowns of how much each hall costs, versus student income from loans, part time work and parental contribution. However it is important to remember that every student is in a different circumstance.
Some parents can contribute a lot more than others and the amount a student receives in loans can greatly affect their day to day monetary availability. An example of this as explained in the report is: If a student’s parental income is £62,143 or above then the government expected parental contribution is £2009. Students in this bracket without any personal income thus have £5740 after the £3731 they receive as a loan is added. This means that after catering and other costs are added in no hall option in Reading is straight off affordable.
However if student’s have a part time job and earn £3392 over 40 weeks this adds up to £9,132. Only St Patricks, Wantage, Windsor and almost Wessex are affordable at this level of loan and parental contribution. This issue is these are the halls with the least amount of rooms in comparison to the upper (premium) numbers. Without more parental support, which is not often possible as parents have other siblings, debt and commitments to pay for, all other halls are not affordable.
Further to this, in a recent round of Change It! (Our democratic platform from which students can vote and propose ideas that matter to them) the winning idea was ‘Stop increasing the Price of Halls’. This idea received 392 votes in a five day long voting period. This shows the significant depth of student feeling that is present.
Students are not just figures on a page, with an unlimited ability to rack up debt. The loans do not cover the costs and the ever increasing need for students to find work in order to pay for accommodation is a concern. Furthermore as this report highlights hall prices need to reflect the facts; a wide range of prices to suit all budgets. The new development is a chance to ensure Reading can offer this.
It is often assumed that the market demand is for Ensuite, high quality rooms. There is demand for them, but at Reading the student demand is for affordable accommodation as we already have large amounts of ensuite, high quality rooms. There is a real opportunity to make Reading even more attractive to wider groups of prospective students from various backgrounds and make our wonderful university more affordable for the general student populous, plus fill the gaps in the accommodation portfolio.
This report will be available on the RUSU website soon.