Union President Dave Keenan has said that he has known since June that he was “barking up the wrong tree” looking for rent reductions.
Keenan told Brig this week that, while it was never explicitly told to him, the university was very unlikely to agree to reduce rent.
He said: “In my initial conversations with the uni I realised quickly that I would have to change tact. Especially if I was genuinely wanting to help people.”
Keenan then moved on to working on the Accommodation Enhancement Fund, a means-tested grant for disadvantaged students that would be paid directly to accommodation services on a student’s behalf.
In a past interview with Brig, Keenan said that when he felt that rent reductions were not going to happen, he turned his focus to helping the most disadvantaged students.
He said recently: “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.”
When asked if he believed that he should have told students earlier that there was very little chance of material reductions, Keenan said: “I think it’s a fair point, maybe I should have said a little bit sooner, but to be honest with you, it was all kind of part of the wider tactic.”
The reason for there being no reduction is based on the £40m loan that the university took out to pay for the newer accommodations, Keenan said.
To meet repayments, the University Court agreed on a financial model which is said to include 2.5% annual rises in rent for the newer halls.
In the Union’s recent Big Rent Survey report, it is stated that there is a limit to what the university can do, and that major rent reductions would only come if the Scottish Government were to legislate for rent controls.
Keenan also revealed to Brig he would not be seeking a second term as Union President, saying: “I have decided for myself that I am going back to my studies in September, to finish my fourth year.”
That does not mean, however, that he will be stepping away from the issue of student rent. “I am in my own personal capacity a member of the tenants union for the living rent campaign,” he pointed out.
Keenan went on to state that the only way for rent controls to be enacted by the government would be for a campaign to be launched all across Scotland, that would be led by students and not by sabbatical officers, for the change to happen.
He also stated that he hoped that the Scottish Student Housing Summit, scheduled to be held in Stirling at the end of February, would act as a “launching pad” for any possible campaign that would materialise.