There has been "real grassroots anger" among students at the college, campaigners sayAndrew Dunn

A petition calling for reduced accommodation charges at Magdalene College has gathered signatures from nearly half the undergraduate body.

First launched in late November, the petition calls for significant cuts to accommodation costs, including a 20% reduction in rent and a 25% reduction in the Kitchen Fixed Charge, a mandatory fixed sum that is used to pay for college kitchen facilities.

The petition, which currently has 137 signatures, was organised by Magdalene’s Cut the Rent campaign. It claims that students at the College have “have suffered from unfair treatment on accommodation issues”.

The petition is part of a University-wide ‘Cambridge, Cut the Rent’ campaign, which seeks to draw attention to the costs of accommodation at the University, and encourage colleges to make changes to their charges and policies. Several other colleges have also become involved in the campaign, including Murray Edwards, where a similar petition gained over 100 signatories in under a week. A petition is als running at Robinson College. CUSU Council voted in support of the campaign in November.

At Magdalene, the JCR unanimously approved a motion declaring that rooms do not provide value for money last month. The college’s Cut the Rent campaign has focussed largely on reducing the cost of living in college, and the petition states that rent costs have “repeatedly increased above inflation” in the past five years. Citing the housing charity Shelter’s recommendation that rent costs constitute no more than 30% of income, campaigners also point out that only the lowest of the five room bands meets this requirement for students on a maximum student loan. They argue that the reduction in rent they demand would better reflect the quality of the accommodation, given that many of the rooms are “in poor state.”

The petitions also questions the value-for-money offered to students by the Kitchen Fixed Charge. The Charge, a £190 flat rate paid termly by all students, is allegedly one of the highest in Cambridge. Campaigners argue that such a charge is unfair to students who have few or poor facilities, or even those who live outside the college.

Campaigners also criticise the college’s fine system, claiming that it causes “needless” distress to the student body and especially to those who are in “precarious” financial positions. In particular, they highlight a £150 fine per wall “merely for putting up photos or posters,” as well as the £25 charge for lost keys, which they say is out of alignment with the charges made by other colleges.

Speaking to Varsity, Magdalene’s Senior Bursar, Steven Morris, emphasised the College’s policy of consulting with students, as well as the availability of bursaries to students facing financial hardship.

“The College is certainly aware of the students’ views on the cost of living and will continue to listen and discuss the matters with the JCR and MCR officers,” Morris said. “The College has a policy of consulting with student officers every year as rents are reviewed. The College also benchmarked its rents against its peers and private sector provision and this exercise has shown that College charges are consistently at a median or below this level.


Mountain View

Nearly a third of Murray Edwards undergrads back petition calling for rent cuts

“Furthermore,  the College has invested significantly into the refurbishment of student accommodation over the past five years to improve the room stock but always seeks to provide are range of rooms with different pricing in order to offer choice to our students. Finally the College has worked very hard to raise new donations for student support, particularly for undergraduate bursaries, and it supports over 20% of students with financial assistance concerning living expenses whilst at Cambridge.”

He added that the College “would want to continue a dialogue with its students and appreciates the financial pressures many are under”.

According to campaigners, however, it is a lack of consultation that has contributed to the success of this petition. Angus Satow, a fourth-year undergraduate at Magdalene and member of ‘Magdalene, Cut the Rent’, told Varsity  that the petition shows that “students are united in demanding better,” and spoke of a “real grassroots anger” among students.

“Students at Magdalene are not being treated with respect,” he continued. “Given a rapidly rising Kitchen Fixed Charge, a punitive fining system and a tendency to disregard the voices of students, it is little wonder that just 24% of Magdalene students felt represented in accommodation matters in the 2015-16 Big Cambridge Survey.”

The petition will be handed in to the College in Lent Term