The College’s net assets decreased by £8.4 million during the 2019-20 academic year Louis Ashworth

On Wednesday evening (24/02), Sidney Sussex College decided that rent for incoming students would increase by 3%, plus inflation, for the 2021-22 academic year.

The open letter, launched earlier this week, has been signed by 164 students at the time of publication (26/02). The letter opposed the initial proposal of annual 5% rent increases and called on the College to “abandon any plans for a rent increase in 2021-22.”

Sidney Sussex College Student Union (SSCSU) President, Jake Lowry, told Varsity that the decision on Wednesday evening was “a compromise [from] the originally proposed 5%.” He added that there was potential for the same 3% increase to be applied in the 2022-23 academic year “if Sidney’s rents are in the lowest quartile of all Cambridge College’s rents”.

“Despite productive discussions lasting several months, unfortunately JCR representatives felt unable to support any of the rent proposals put before Council today,” and he added that he was “disappointed with today’s outcome, [but] will nonetheless continue to work with and lobby College on this issue.”

Currently, first-year students at the College pay between £1,246 and £1,461 in rent charges, plus a termly catering charge of £185.

The letter highlights the “grave inequalities in the quality of accommodation” across the collegiate University, and that this factor should be considered alongside the College’s aim to ensure that rent at Sidney Sussex is “within 5% of the median of all colleges.”

The letter deems that “the median [rent across the collegiate University] is an arbitrary target that does not reflect the relative quality of Sidney accommodation.”

An email to students at the College from Lowry highlighted that proposals were part of “above-inflation rent increases.”

Both this email and the open letter also discuss the “end-goal,” which refers to the College Council’s alleged commitment to discussing whether above-inflation increases would continue at the College, which the letter stated had yet to take place.

The letter expresses sympathy that “the College is facing unprecedented financial difficulty with two remote terms and a complete loss of conferencing activity in the last 12 months,” and praises the College’s decision to “waiver rent charges for students not in residence and to top up furloughed staff pay to 100%.”

It continues: “Despite this, the cost of the pandemic should not be borne by students and decisions around permanent rent increases should be taken independently of the financial impact of the pandemic.”

One student at Sidney Sussex, who is also member of the Rent Strike Campaign, told Varsity that “in the midst of a pandemic, the college has decided to completely ignore the voices of its student body by going back the commitment it made last year to consult with us on future increases.”

They added that “the college have lost the trust of its community.”

The ‘Sidney Rent Strike’ campaign also voiced their frustrations via Facebook, condemning the proposal as “outrageous” and adding that “instead of listening to students’ well researched, valid concerns, college management want to raise rents for freshers who will have already been hit by two years of the economic impacts of the pandemic.”

Sidney Sussex’s financial statements for the 2019-20 academic year highlighted some of the financial impacts of the pandemic for the College. These included: the loss of income from student accommodation and catering fees, cancellation of conferences, the impact on rent from commercial tenants, and the impact on dividends from funds held in equities.

The report placed emphasis on the loss of income from accommodation fees: “income from residences, catering and conferences decreased by a total of £0.835 million (22%) in the year. This is a direct consequence of the pandemic, with virtually no income in the Easter term from student rents and catering, and no conference income from the Easter vacation.”

The report also states that the College’s net assets have decreased by £8.4 million, from £131.7 million to £123.3 million, over the course of the year, in what the report describes as an “exceptional year” due to the “the COVID-19 pandemic having a significant impact on [the College’s] finances.”


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The College has also reported a loss £9.424 million in investments, compared with a loss of £0.816 million in 2018-19.

This has led the College to defer some maintenance and accommodation projects for the 2020-21 academic year until 2021-22. Alongside this, trustees have formed a financial recovery working group which is intended to explore ways by which the short and medium-term impacts of the pandemic for the College can be mitigated.

“Forecasts have been prepared [by the working group] for the period to 2023 which have been stress tested based on a number of scenarios and have considered the impact upon the College and its cash resources and unrestricted reserves.”

The College’s fundraising efforts, which “are primarily directed at raising money from our alumni,” were also impacted: “COVID-19 had a significant impact on fundraising and alumni relations at the College between March and June 2020,” the report states.

“All face-to-face meetings with donors, as well as all events, were cancelled, the annual (mail) appeal was converted into a donor report,” alongside members of the team being placed on furlough.

Sidney Sussex has been contacted for comment.