Union President Dave Keenan has signalled that he will not be pursuing lower rent prices for university accommodation, a policy which was central to his presidential campaign.
In a blog post on the Stirling Students Union website, Keenan stated that “it is extremely difficult to argue the case for material rent reductions in the current climate”.
Keenan also announced that he has “some creative ideas” that he feels will assist “students who most need help”, the contents of which will be outlined in a report coming out later this month.
Reducing the cost of student rent was a key tenant of his campaign for Union President, a campaign which saw him win in a landslide.
Currently, rent prices for student accommodation, excluding the newest halls, are frozen for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Yet, with this announcement from the Union President, it is uncertain whether these prices will see an increase in the 2017-2018 academic year.
Brig sat down with Keenan to discuss the progress of his fair rent campaign.
When asked to clarify his statement on rent reductions, he said: “What I meant by saying that is right, okay, we might not be able to get across the board rent reductions, but there are ways around that to ensure that we might be able to get some sort of subsidy for the students who actually need it. That’s what I’m aiming for here.”
Keenan highlighted the importance of his Big Rent Review, a survey on students’ experiences in student accommodation, which received more than 400 signatures.
Now that it appears rent reductions are off the table, it is not yet clear what Keenan’s “creative ideas” will entail.
When asked to clarify whether these ‘creative ideas’ would involve another discretionary fund, Keenan explained: “It’s a reworking of [the discretionary fund] to make sure that it’s actually utilised. One of the biggest issues with the housing fund is that it’s been under-publicised, it’s been under used and it’s become ineffective.”
“I encourage the rent review group to say look let’s think about how we’re using that fund. Is it appropriate to say to students ‘We’ll give you support, when you hit financial trouble’ or start firefighting when it gets too bad?
“Or, do you want to be pre-emptive about this and get people from the start, when they first go into accommodation?”
In the previous year, then-Union President Andrew Kinnell secured a freeze on the majority of student halls with a £50K discretionary fund to assist students who were struggling to make their rent payments.
During his election campaign, Keenan was critical of this funding as he accused the university of “buying out students”.
When asked if he felt he was breaking a campaign promise, Keenan said: “I think that’s kind of fishing for a story that’s not quite there. Which is fair enough, journalists have got to do that.
“Students will always be the judge of whether or not I’ve broken my promises, but I think if I get the deal that I desire, I don’t think I’ll have broken any promises, I think I’ll be delivering.”
In an interview with Brig during last year’s campaign, he pledged that he would “make a promise to students that [he] will fight tooth and nail to ensure we get a fair rent agreement for 2017-18”.
In the same interview, Keenan stated that the university must “start seriously looking at rent reductions. Students shouldn’t be paying a 5-star premium to live on campus.”
In recent years, Stirling University has replaced existing student accommodation with new luxury accommodation each costing over £5000 a year – 93% of a maximum SAAS loan.
The University has been reluctant to lower student rent, agreeing this year to freeze rents on all accommodation, except the new buildings which were increased by 2.5%.
Stirling has argued that their rents have increased by market rates, but students are still struggling to make these payments as their loans are not increasing at the same rate.
Student rent has been the subject of vociferous debate this past year, and was the key issue of last year’s Union elections.
A spokesperson for the University told Brig that the rates for the next academic year have yet to be agreed.