Wednesday 04-02-2015 - 09:41
On Rent Freedom Day in conjunction with Generation Rent, Tilly Corless, Welfare Officer at Reading University Students’ Union reflects on their campaign to address rent problems on their campus which resulted in saving students next year a total of £210,000.
At Reading we’ve been constantly aware of the high prices of our halls and particularly in relation the other universities out there; there’s a massive problem with halls prices overall and we’re at the top end of it. It’s particularly an issue for us as our university outsourced all our halls to a private provider, so our ability to influence and change things felt a lot harder.
Despite the fact that there is increasing student demand to attend Reading University and to live in halls, it seems evident that prospective students don’t always match their chosen hall price to their much smaller income from student finance. In fact, many students at Reading are £3000 short of payment for their yearly halls rent before they’ve even started university. At Reading University Students’ Union, we find this shocking, and after collating student feedback and research around the problem, we decided to step in to attempt to decrease the rent increase of 2015/16 and the subsequent 125 years (for as long as the contract between the provider and the university lasts).
After benchmarking our halls prices and contract lengths with comparable universities and those that are logistically close, we wrote a report with recommendations to the University. We asked to be included in further discussions of rent setting for 2015/16 and for the increase to be minimal or even to remain static. Yes, the proposal was drastic and we were apprehensive that the University would not hear us out. To an extent we were right to be apprehensive about out proposals as much of our own research was questioned and debated. On the other hand, we won a huge victory and it was agreed that we would have membership on the committee that would set the rent of 2015/16 this was a massive first step in our campaign.
We then moved on to negotiating with what the rent levels for next year will be. It was quite difficult to decide on the best way to achieve our aims and who needed it the most, but we knew that with only 180 rooms still below £140 a week we needed a progressive structure that allowed the more affordable stuff to be maintained, whilst being able to affect as many students as possible. It wasn’t an easy process to wade through, but with some hard work and determination we managed to succeed!
In total, we have shaved rent costs next year by £210,000 which we think will go a long way to setting students free from the extortionate burden of rent. It’s almost frustrating that this was such a huge step, because there is such a long way to go still. But in the process of the campaign we secured a seat around the table to negotiate rents for the next 125 years; as long as the contract stands. This means that students will have a say in their rent and goes a long way to secure success.