The University Court will convene on Tuesday to agree rent prices for the forthcoming academic year, but an independent student group have made plans to picket and “disrupt” the meeting.
On 1 February, Union President Andrew Kinnell announced that after a series of negotiations between representatives from the Union and the University, comprising the Rent Review Group, an agreement on student accommodation costs had been reached.
The deal will see a rent freeze on 14 of the 17 University-owned properties, while Juniper, Beech and Willow residents will face a 2.5% rent rise. In addition, £50,000 will be set aside by the University for a ‘Rent Hardship Fund’.
Kinnell made fairer rent a significant pillar of his campaign to become Union President, and called the deal “a fair compromise” that would keep the University accessible to all.
He also praised students for getting involved in his flagship Campaign For Fair Rent, saying that “the significant concessions won from the University would not have been possible without students engaging in the process.”
But since the 1 February announcement, a grassroots group of students have sprung up called Fair Rent NOW! demanding that the cost of rent be reduced across all properties.
They plan to march and then “sit in” on Tuesday’s meeting of the Joint Policy, Planning and Resources Committee in an attempt to disrupt it.
Dave Keenan, one of the protest’s principal organisers – and who is also standing to be next year’s Union President – said the University was “burdening the poorest students with a five-star premium” and claimed “students have now had enough of paying extortionate rent.”
A University spokesperson said they were committed to providing “a wide range of high-quality, affordable accommodation.”
Reaction to the deal around campus
Andrew Kinnell, Union President:
14 of the 17 properties will have their rent frozen, with the three most expensive (Juniper, Beech and Willow) increasing by 2.5%. As well as this freeze, which equates in real terms to a saving of £200k for students, I managed to secure a further concession- a new ‘Rent Hardship fund’ worth £50k- which is aimed at helping those who are struggling to make rent payments. While I had initially hoped for a blanket rent freeze (which would have saved students £300k), this deal is a fair compromise (worth a total of £250k) which ensures the University remains accessible and that those who need help most get it…
“I hope that students continue to engage with Union campaigns as they can make a real difference.”
The University is committed to working with the Students’ Union to ensure that students are able to access a wide range of high-quality, affordable accommodation.
“The Rent Review Group, which comprises representatives from across the University and the Students’ Union, unanimously agreed recommendations for rent proposals for the 2016/17 academic year.”
Dave Keenan, Fair Rent NOW! organiser and candidate for Union President:
It’s quite frankly disgusting that students have to pay £137 per week, for a single bedroom and shared facilities, when the lowest student loan stands at £475 per month.
“What we also have to bring into question is the fact that the Principal of the University gets a pay packet of £262,000 and lives rent-free in his university bungalow. There is a growing sense of unfairness and discontent amongst the student body. Students have now had enough of paying extortionate rent. That is why on Tuesday we will be protesting against the cost of accommodation.”
Christina Hendry and Jamie Walker, SUSNA:
“This proposal from the university is rather disappointing. While many students on campus are struggling to fund their education the University should make the one thing important to their safety, comfort and security affordable.
A rent increase of 2.5% is unjustifiable especially since some accommodation’s rent prices already make up 105% of the average student loan. Student poverty is a major issue and the university should be doing all they can to tackle it. Education is a right, not a privilege and affordable accommodation whilst in education should too be a right.”
Ian Young, Stirling University Labour Society:
The University shouldn’t be charging so much for accommodation that those relying on only their student loan would be left with no money to spare.
“While we do appreciate the new hardship fund we still feel that lower income students will lose too much as a result of the offer and this is something the University needs to address.
“We hope that with the help of other student groups we can lobby the University further in order to make accommodation costs fairer for those who need it.”
Aime Jaffray, Stirling University Greens:
The Scottish Greens are committed to affordable housing across Scotland and believe in truly free education.
“This offer from the University does not go far enough in securing affordable, liveable accommodation for Stirling’s students, especially those from working class or non-traditional backgrounds.
“High rents continue to plunge Stirling students into education poverty and the University clearly has no serious interest in tackling this.”
Gregor Ironside, University of Stirling Conservative Society:
The University of Stirling Conservative Society supports the Union President’s campaign to get a fairer deal for students. This victory is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to keep University accommodation rent in check, to ensure that everyone regardless of background who has worked hard enough to gain a place at university is not held back from success by financial barriers.
“We remain committed to the President’s original goal of a complete rent freeze for student accommodation, yet are disappointed more concessions could not be secured with his large mandate.”
“I think we have to thank Union President Andrew Kinnell for negotiating the best deal possible but accept that the University’s structures mean that the negotiation process was always going to result in a poor deal for students. Clearly the University hierarchy has put commercial interests before accessibility to education for potential students from poor backgrounds.
“Looking forward, student action to address the issue is dependent on increased participation from the student body. When the SSP went round halls supporting the Union petition for fair rent we found a consensus that prices were too high yet there were only a handful of students who came to the meeting to discuss the issue.
“I think if students want a better deal they will have to engage properly with the with the issue and take action, whatever form that may be in.”
*Hugh Cullen is Co-Convenor of the Stirling Uni branch of the SSP/RISE, but speaks here in a personal capacity.