[su_heading]The university has made millions on accommodation since 2013 FOI request reveals.[/su_heading]
UEA has been making millions in profit from halls of residence a freedom of information request from this publication has revealed. The Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) has responded by calling for the university to include students when making decisions on the prices of university accommodation.
On 13th August Concrete submitted a freedom of information request to the university asking it to disclose figures relating to the finances of the institution’s halls of residence in the last two academic years. The information obtained by Concrete following the request revealed that since September 2013 UEA has made a total of £4.35m in profit through charging students for accommodation.
Chris Jarvis, Campaigns and Democracy officer at the UUEAS, declared that the profit made on accommodation fees was being used by the university as “a way of universities getting round the [£9,000 tuition fee] cap by propping up their finances through secondary costs on students.”
Speaking to Concrete Jarvis said: “The main issue we have is that when students are already paying £9,000 in tuition fees they are essentially funding the university. They are having to top up that funding through massive accommodation fees which are set to rise by 3.4% every year.
“The major problem with that as well is that process for setting accommodation fees has no student input whatsoever and so the student union has been in negotiation to try and get a say on the level of accommodation fees.
“The problem also is that figure doesn’t go to directly back into the accommodation budget… it goes into the general university pot. So it’s essentially students having to top up again the university’s finances.”
Commenting on the issue, a university spokesperson admitted that the profit made from halls of residence was not directly re-invested in accommodation but instead used to fund other aspects of the university: “Surpluses generated by the residences are reinvested in facilities on campus.”
Jarvis was re-elected as the UUEAS’ Campaigns and Democracy Officer for a second year in March and pledged in his campaign to work for a freeze in accommodation fees. When asked by Concrete last week about his pledge he said: “In an ideal word [halls would be not for profit], but the pragmatist in me says that is a more likely scenario that we will get a rent freeze. There’s evidence across the student union sector of students running campaigns on this and winning an accommodation fee freeze so I think we are in good stead to do that.”
Jarvis went on to explain that while UUEAS is presently try to influence accommodation fees by getting the university to consult with students on rent rises, he is prepared to use other means to make sure students’ voices get heard: “So far we’ve been playing nicely with the university and trying to get round the negotiation table and get student representation at the level at which the fees are set. However, if the university continues to refuse to allow student input on that then we will have to use other tactics; we’ll have to start running demonstrations, petitioning and that kind of thing.”
The university presently does not consult with students or the students union on the total income made from accommodation. The current consultation process is designed so that the only discussion over accommodation finances is how the pre-approved cash income that the university wants to make via accommodation is distributed among individual types of halls of residence.
However, when asked by Concrete a UEA spokesperson justified the generation of profit from university halls, despite already high cost of living faced by students, arguing that the alternative option open to the university was to sell halls of residence to third parties. They also highlighted that UUEAS has originally backed these plans: “The University took a decision some years ago, with the strongest support of the Student Union of the day, not to sell its residences off to a third party in
exchange for a substantial capital sum. It was agreed at the time that the University would look to raise income from the residences through the rents in order to generate a cash surplus for re-investment in facilities on campus for the benefit of students.”
The NUS has long campaigned for fairer student accommodation prices and the charity’s Vice President for Welfare, Shelly Asquith highlighted that the profit made by UEA on accommodation is not unusual: “Universities have failed to secure affordable accommodation and have either invested in expensive stock themselves or sold off old stock to private developers.
“It has become such an explosive market and is cutting huge amounts of poorer students out of university.”