UCL accused of cutting bursaries for low income students amid growing rent strike

Investigation finds students from less well-off backgrounds will receive £500 to £1,000 less from next year

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Friday 06 May 2016 09:38
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Student protesters at University College London (UCL) have criticised the institution’s management for cutting bursaries for poorer students amid an escalating row over soaring rent prices.

According to the UCL website, in 2015/16, students from a household with an income of less than £12,000 were entitled to a cash bursary of £3,000, while those who fell into the £12,000 to £25,000 bracket being eligible to claim £2,000.

However, after an investigation with UCL Union magazine, The Cheese Grater, the protesters - who are part of the UCL, Cut the Rent (UCL CTR) group - have revealed that, for the 2016/17 academic year, the university has cut both bursary amounts to £2,000 and £1,500 respectively.

The demonstrators referred to “bursaries balancing their neverending rent hikes” in an online statement.

The group also said the head of UCL Estates, Andrew Grainger, has claimed “to not ‘consider low income students when setting rents’,” adding: “The disparity between increasing rents and cutting bursaries only serve to highlight Mr Grainger’s statement even more so.”

The group was making reference to a conversation Mr Grainger had in a meeting between university representatives and UCL CTR where he was was taped telling students: “We do not set out rents on the basis of the least well-off students… Some people just simply cannot afford to study in London - and that is just a fact of life.”

One of UCL CTR’s spokespersons, Angus O’Brien, told the Independent that the protesters’ recent negotiations with members of senior management over the need for reform of the bursary system - and to improve it - was recognised and desired by both sides.

However, he added: “To suddenly turn around and make these cuts - cuts that will exclusively affect students from less privileged backgrounds - is inexcusable, constitutes a blatant attack on access to education at UCL, and further evidences something students already know at UCL: for management, money comes first, education second.”

The university has yet to respond to the Independent’s request for comment.

The developments have come as over 600 UCL students are on strike and demanding lower rent in student accommodation.

UCL CTR has described how, since 2010, the university has increased rents by 56 per cent, and claim the university is “making a £15.7 million annual profit” to invest in new real estate expansions. Student strikers have also criticised the fact rents are due to rise again next year.

However, the university has previously told the Independent it is “wrong” to say UCL makes a profit from the rent collected, adding: “We are a not-for-profit institution. The money received in rent is ploughed back into residences.”

Rooms in the university’s three halls of residence range between £143.50 and £270.06 a week, placing them among some of the most expensive student accommodations in the UK. A small number of shared rooms, though, are available for less.

The protesters have been demanding an immediate 40 per cent rent cut for all students in UCL accommodation, and have said they also want to see long-term commitments and improvements to social rent levels, poor living conditions, and transparency and security from evictions.

They also want UCL students to have direct involvement when it comes to rent-setting in the future.

Urging as many students as possible to sign up and withhold their rent until their demands have been met, UCL CTR said: “It’s now normal for even the cheapest rooms to be more expensive than the entire student loan payment.

UCL RENTS

“If UCL management doesn’t resolve this pressing issue, we will all join the strike in third term in support of a fair resolution for this year’s student and future rents.”

Mr Grainger addressed student concerns over rent costs in a previous statement, and said UCL had “ambitious plans” over the next five years to refurbish and extend a number of student accommodation residences.

He added: “We will ensure all work undertaken delivers real value for money and focuses on the areas requiring the greatest attention.

“UCL takes its responsibility towards its students extremely seriously and highly values its relationship with the student body. We know students want good-quality and affordable accommodation, and I look forward to our discussions with CTR in shaping this agenda.”

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