90 Sidney Sussex students signed an open letter demanding rent increase proposals be abandonedLouis Ashworth

Opposition from the Sidney Sussex College Student Union (SSCSU) to increases in accommodation prices, which they said would have damaging consequences for students’ financial security and mental health, has led the college to abandon the original proposals, in favour of a more moderate plan.

The original proposals, announced by the Sidney Sussex Bursar on the 22nd January, aimed to bring accomodation rates at the college to within 5% of the university median, as undergraduate prices are currently 15% lower.

Following a meeting of the College Council on Wednesday, however, the college has dropped the plans for annual increases to reach the 5% mark and has agreed that future price hikes will require further approval.

An open letter from SSCSU Accommodation and Access Officers to the Master and Fellows of Sidney Sussex, which was presented to the Council, called for the plans to be dropped. It was signed by 90 students.

The letter claimed that at a meeting of the college’s Finance and Needs Committee on 27th January, during which SSCSU objected to the proposals, “concerns about academic and mental welfare were wholly dismissed."

“This behaviour towards student welfare cannot be overlooked,” the letter continued.

“It is inexplicable that the same people who claim to have the best interests of their students at heart can hear the emotive testimonies about their current struggles and concerns for their wellbeing under proposed changes without considering that the rent charges are not in the best interests of the very students they are supposed to look after.”

“We believe the conversations held at this committee meeting have undermined the relationship between the college and SSCSU who have been acting to represent the wishes of the student body.”

The letter also raised concerns that potential applicants might be discouraged from applying to Sidney Sussex and that the student body was not being sufficiently consulted and communicated with on the matter.

On Tuesday, the SSCSU Accommodation and Access Officers met with the Bursar. The Officers told Varsity it was a “productive meeting” and that the Bursar seemed ready to listen to concerns about the implications for student welfare.

In defence of the initial plans Bursar Sarah Bonnett told Varsity that “Sidney rents are amongst the lowest of all Cambridge colleges,” noting that “there has been significant investment over recent years to refurbish student accommodation.”

“Students, via their student union reps, have been consulted but have not put forward an alternative, other than resisting any increase,” she added.


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She justified the original proposal further by stressing the need to ensure Sidney Sussex continues to achieve at least an “operational break-even”, between income and expenditure.

The small surplus the College achieved in 2018/19, Bonnett claimed, could be at risk if there are no further increases in undergraduate tuition fees, forecasts for reduced income from the college’s commercial rental properties are realised, and increasing wage costs due to expanding employer pension contributions and wage inflation.

Cohort pricing would have been used to increase the rates, so that each year group would have accomodation costs higher than that of the previous group at a controlled rate, until the charges had come to within 5% of the university median.

The Acting SSCSU President told students that, whilst the new plan does “not mean that increases will necessarily stop at the 5% increase for next year’s cohort”, it will mean that “students should at least have more time to consider and accept/reject any further increase.”

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