The headline in the leading article in today’s Observer states: “Soaring student rents push college accommodation to brink of crisis”. Half of undergraduates struggle to pay bills (‘twas ever the case?) – rents rose by 25% between 2010 and 2013; living costs outstrip loans. One of the troubles is that private developers have moved in on the student accommodation market.There are something like 48,000 students at Bristol’s two universities – which is about a tenth of the city’s population. In the “olden days” when I was at university, student accommodation was all about spartan rooms and shared bathrooms (actually, it still seemed to be pretty much like this even when our daughters were at university 15-20 years ago!). In my first year, I stayed at digs which cost me 7 guineas(!) a week for bed and breakfast.
About a year ago(?), I remember highlighting a photograph on facebook of a “luxury student accommodation” hoarding (scandalous!!) I spotted in the centre (which I now can’t locate – the development was being undertaken by Prime Student Living)… but this excellent article by Alex Rankin in “The Bristol Cable”, from last February, summarises things perfectly. Here are some extracts:
“Within the last couple of years, a raft of new developments have sprung up across town, offering would-be students an exclusive living experience. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the area around Nelson Street, formerly the site of the See No Evil street art gallery. It’s currently a frenzy of building activity with New Bridewell police station and the Magistrates Court razed to the ground and several other buildings in the process of being redeveloped.
One of the first to be transformed was the pre-existing Nelson House, which underwent a £3 million upgrade courtesy of Unite Students… A single room here goes for just over £5,000 per academic year, or £125 per week, which might sound reasonable enough given its central location but other student accommodation costs a lot more.
St Lawrence House, currently under development by Prime Student Living, is set to open its doors to undergraduates in September 2015. The description of the facilities reads like a holiday brochure, with students being offered an on-site gym, 32” TVs and even their own printing and parcel distribution service. Despite claiming to offer tenants ‘affordable’ accommodation, prices start at £165 per week for a standard studio and rise to as much as £213 for an ‘extra large’ version. Meanwhile, Student Castle, who recently turned the old Pro Cathedral in Clifton into student rooms, charge even higher, with rates ranging from £139 per week all the way up to £269 for a two-level studio.
According to their website, many rooms are now booked out, but this has little bearing on the financial status of the vast majority of Bristol’s students. Tom Phipps, housing officer for the University of Bristol’s Student Union, said about these prices: “given that the basic maintenance loan is around £3,700 a year, these prices are exorbitant. Only a very small proportion of students here at Bristol will be able to afford these costs. This is a worrying trend as rents across the board are rising year on year making Bristol one of the most expensive places to be a student”.
Universities used to own and manage their own student accommodation. By the 1970-80s, Housing Associations frequently took over this role on behalf of many universities.
Crucially, Housing Associations were NON-PROFIT MAKING organisations but, sadly – largely thanks to changes in government regulation between 2010-13, today it’s the developers who have largely taken over… with the onus now very much on maximising profits for their shareholders.
It shouldn’t be like this!
PS: There MIGHT be an argument that there too many students attending university courses these days... but that's another story!