A banner-drop protesting rent costs at Robinson earlier this yermMathias Gjesdal Hammer

A Varsity investigation has revealed a huge gap between average rent prices at Cambridge’s colleges. We spoke to five students about their experiences with housing.

Simone Fernandes, Magdalene

When I arrived back at the beginning of Michaelmas, the house was in a dire state. Not only was there no key for me, but there were stains on the carpet and a rotting McDonald’s bag in the kitchen. But the worst thing was that there was a wasps’ nest directly outside the bathroom window.

Some of my housemates had arrived back on the 23rd September and reported it straight away, but the first response we received from college saying they had contacted pest control wasn’t until the 10th October. When we wanted to go to the toilet we had to go all the way across the road into Cripps Court. Even after pest control came, there were still quite a few wasps, and college pretty much told us to put up with it.

College also charge a lot of money through fines, but there are very few obvious signs of improvement. A friend of mine was charged £250 for having adhesive on the walls, which is bad enough, but there’s no sign of where any of that kind of money goes.

There are bursaries out there, but there are people left behind who are above the threshold for a bursary but still really struggle to afford the rent. Also, I don’t think bursaries should be going towards rent – it’s bizarre for that money to go straight back to college!

Charley Barnard, Newnham

At the end of last term, my family situation imploded, and my mum and I were made homeless. I don’t have anywhere to go home to. I had to switch from a termly to continuous licence, but I was clear from the start that I didn’t have the means to pay it: my mum doesn’t, and my student finance still hasn’t changed to reflect my new family situation. In my first meetings with the Senior Tutor, she said that would be fine, but I was still charged for the change to continuous. I emailed explaining I couldn’t afford it and was told it would be waived, but when I got my Lent college bill, I was charged the extra money for both Michaelmas and Lent.

When I said again that I couldn’t pay it, I was told I could just pay it when I could. Obviously, that doesn’t make a lot of sense: if I don’t have the money at the start of term, I’m not going to have the money now. I just paid it out of my overdraft, and, luckily because I had worked over Christmas, I’m not at the bottom of my overdraft. Newnham have since given me a £1000 bursary, but there have been miscommunications, and it’s put me in a really awkward situation.

I think there should be a much more accessible guide to of all the help that’s available. It needs to be less hidden, because that then adds to the stigma about being from a low-income background at Cambridge. It’s assumed that the norm is to be middle class, and comfortable. It’s alienating that provisions aren’t in place for people like me. Hard-to-access bursaries aren’t an alternative to affordable rent.

Alice Clarke, Robinson

At Robinson the rooms are broken down roughly into ‘value’, ‘standard’, and ‘standard plus’ rooms. Value rooms are about £300 cheaper per term than standard rooms, but you do have to share a bathroom with two other people, rather than just one person. I tried to get a value room, but there are only 4 of those in total so I was given a standard room. My neighbour has a value room, and their room is slightly bigger than mine, despite paying £300 less each term. I also have to share a bathroom with two other people, which you’re not supposed to have to do with a standard room. What’s frustrating is that college give no explanation for why the value rooms are given out to the people they are.

My room has a balcony, which is nice, but the door doesn’t fully shut. It’s the same with my neighbour – some nights you can feel the wind and rain in bed. The floor is wet all around the floor in the morning. College did try and fix it, in fairness, but it didn’t work.

Rachel*, Newnham

I’m an international student, but I have a termly licence because I can’t really afford a continuous one, although it would be more convenient for me.

I applied to a wealthier college but was pooled to Newnham, and really struggle to pay rent here. Because of their pricing system, Newnham doesn’t have any cheap rooms, which is unfair. They want to achieve this kind of equality but it’s impossible; it would be better to let people choose based on their financial situation.

I get a Newnham bursary, and I am grateful for that, and I also receive a Cambridge bursary. This helps, but it’s still very expensive. I can’t cover everything, so my parents have to struggle to help me pay it.

During the summer, I researched leaving Newnham accommodation and moving to another college’s accommodation or finding private housing. I received two positive responses from other colleges, and renting their accommodation for the entire year cost as much as I’m paying now for three terms, but my parents suggested I stay here for another year.

Struggling so much to pay rent made me really unhappy about being pooled. I felt like everyone else in Cambridge had had the opportunity to pay less and I didn’t. I just felt that I didn’t deserve to be at Cambridge because I had to pay more to be at Cambridge. It made me very insecure about myself.

Hannah*, Newnham

Rent is basically my entire student loan, so I have to work during the holidays to have enough for food and other expenses, which adds stress. I did very little revision over the Christmas holidays because I had to work. If I lost my job I would struggle to pay rent and eat. I want to revise more over the Easter break but I can’t just decide not to work then. It weighs on me in the holidays when I’m stuck at work, thinking about the topics I should be revising. I don’t want to have to ask my parents for money, because they are struggling as it is. It’s always there in the back of my mind that something could very easily go wrong, and I would have to leave.

The rent being equal for everyone here is nice, because I can choose the room I want, but at the same time, I would happily take a slightly less good room for less money, and have more money. I don’t ever eat in the buttery, so paying an almost £900 a year kitchen fixed charge for food for other people is not ideal. If I had that money back, I wouldn’t have to work in the holidays.

Concerns about rent have definitely dampened my experience of Cambridge. I feel like I miss out on a lot of stuff, because I’m wary about how much money I’ll have left that week.

* Some names have been changed

❝ What is your experience with rent costs?

We would like to hear from students who have have struggled or are struggle with accommodation or rent costs, to find out more about college disparities. If you would like to discuss your experience, please contact Varsity’s Associate Editors, Anna Menin and Patrick Wernham, at: associate@varsity.co.uk. Please give your name, your college, whether you wish to be anonymous, and an outline of what your experience was like.