The Graduate Union report stressed that postgraduate issues are often overlookedEdwin Bahrami Balani

A report compiled by the Cambridge University Graduate Union (GU) has called on the University to “alleviate” the housing pressures that many postgraduate students at Cambridge face, through “standing up for housing, fair rent and no hidden charges”.

The GU’s report states that the University must “talk to Colleges to reduce rent,” and “build more purpose-built student accommodation” with the help of the City Council.

The report stressed that while undergraduate housing has been a point of widespread debate and discussion within Cambridge, issues related to postgraduate housing are often overlooked.

It highlights the burden housing can add to graduate students’ financial difficulties, with many either partially or entirely self-funding their courses.

The overall average weekly rent for UK students stands at £147 per week, according to a NUS-Unipol Accommodation Survey 2018. This consumes more than half of most postgraduate grants, with most PhD students renting for a whole calendar year. In Cambridge, single room rent ranges from £400 to £740 per month across colleges – and according to the report, most postgraduate funding schemes offer a maintenance stipend of which more than 50% usually goes towards rent.

The NUS recommends that no more than half of income be spend on rent.

The report cites the Big Cambridge Survey 2018, which saw high numbers of postgraduate students report low levels of satisfaction with issues relating to their accommodation. Only 45% were satisfied with the value for money of their accommodation, while just 43% felt that the house prices in Cambridge were fair. However, 64% of students reported feeling satisfied with the quality of their accommodation, and 67% were content with the impact living in college or at the University has had on their student life.

The GU’s report also criticises the decline in affordable rooms for postgraduates, highlighting the rise of studio rooms, which have doubled their stock in the UK since 2012-13. It specifically points to Girton College’s Swirles Court, which offers only en-suite rooms. The 325 rooms, purpose built for graduate students, were the first completed stage of Cambridge’s £350m Eddington suburb in North West Cambridge.

16 Colleges told the GU that they predicted an increasing demand for self-contained studio flats over the next five to ten years, while eight Colleges believed demand would remain the same.

The report highlights research undertaken by the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research, who predicted that 8,959 student rooms will need to be built by 2026, to support Cambridge’s current planning framework – which “ envisages an expansion in postgraduate numbers of 2% per year in the next ten years”.

The GU also identified “the general need for additional purpose-built accommodation services [...] in defined areas that are within walking or cycling distance of teaching facilities”.

The report argued that new housing “should be tied to the University, through either a long-term lease or long-term nomination agreement, much like the Lodge Property Services were asked to manage all properties at Eddington and are part of the University Accommodation Service”.

“Affordable and decent housing must be a basic right for every student”

The GU recently asked colleges about their plans for expanding postgraduate accommodation over the next five to ten years, and found “highly mixed” responses. Murray Edwards is planning a 20% expansion and Lucy Cavendish 10%, but 15 colleges are planning less than 2% expansion, and five colleges are not planning any expansion at all.

Private options can sometimes be much cheaper than college accommodation, but postgraduate students, according to the GU, tend to “rely more on the latter than the former” due to a host of problems.

For one, offers are often received late in the year, when much private accommodation has already been let, and so “the easiest option is the most attractive for the students”. Hotel accommodation may also be too expensive to rent in the interval spent searching for private housing. Upfront rental fees and the necessary costs of establishing a home privately are also often not covered by funding bodies.

Furthermore, the GU report argues that international students may not “have the cultural understanding of renting in the UK to be able to make safe decisions about where to live”, and may be deterred by “horror stories of student exploitation”.

A spokesperson for the Office of Intercollegiate Services, the body responsible for providing support to the University’s 31 constituent colleges, said they “welcome the concerns raised in this report, and welcome the Graduate Union’s input into how they could be addressed”.

They added that “the financial challenges of university life are well known” and noted that colleges are “continually” seeking ways to support students in making the right decisions for themselves, including “providing clearer information on accommodation costs”.

The GU stated that they are “motivated to work towards helping create meaningful change on postgraduate housing in the Collegiate University, and campaign for the provision of affordable and accessible housing for the postgraduate students in the University of Cambridge”. They stressed that “affordable and decent housing must be a basic right for every student”.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Senior Labour councillors call on Robinson to act on housing and pay

Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar, Vice-President of the Cambridge University Graduate Union, said he is working closely with the Accommodation Services to find ways to tackle this problem. He said that they were actively looking into ways of encouraging colleges to to make housing charges clear possibly even before the student accepts an offer from their college. He added that they were “actively looking into ways of helping students with private accommodation” by making available facilities such as an online platform hosted by the GU, which “shall help bring potential housemates together”.

He added that they were “seeking a phased deposit scheme from private providers who advertise with the University Accommodation Centre to distribute the deposit for a room over three months instead of having it upfront.”

“The Accommodation Service has now agreed to put this forward to the private housing providers who advertise with them, but it is up to them to opt for it,” he confirmed.

Sponsored links