CUSU’s Big Cambridge Survey is one of the most important ways that we find out about what students care about and helps shape the direction of our policies, when issues or patterns emerge from the data they provide. It’s also a crucial part of the way that we can support JCRs, MCRs and student campaigners with data and university-wide lobbying.
Tackling rent and accommodation is a key priority for the CUSU team this year. Now that we have this information, supplemented by the data from the CUSU Colleges review, we’ll be using it to support students in colleges to fight back against unfair living costs and campaign for fair rents across the university.
The data below are not perfect: there are nuances around the leasing contracts, kitchen fixed charges and other services provided. For some colleges the sample size could be higher, and data around absolute rent level is not perfectly accurate because it is a simple average of what students told us they pay. These findings are based on a preliminary look at the data, and we’d be looking to bolster them with other sources throughout campaigning. However, the scale of problem evident in each of the conclusions we have drawn is sufficient that we feel it does stand up to scrutiny.
So who are the biggest offenders according to students? And what are the most interesting finds?
1) There is a huge range in rent prices at different colleges.
This data is not new, but it does provide the basis for comparison against a range of metrics; including satisfaction, perceived quality, and fairness of accommodation received. The range between the most expensive college solely based on rent, Robinson, and cheapest, Pembroke was £58.17 per week. There is significant disparity between colleges on rent rates.
The above will only give a partial indicative picture of the variety of rent rates at colleges. The number above is a mean of the rent reported by students at the college in the Big Cambridge Survey and does not reflect college banding systems, additional charges, and availability of different room costs.
2) At 15 colleges, more students feel that their rent is not fair than those who feel that it is.
Newnham had the highest levels of net dissatisfaction, with only 2% of students saying they were satisfied with the accommodation provided by the college, and 89% believing that their rent was unfair. Eight colleges had net dissatisfaction levels of -50% or worse. These were: Sidney Sussex, Murray Edwards, Robinson, Girton, Queen’s, Downing, Lucy Cavendish and Newnham.
3) There is very little correlation between rent cost and the net proportion of students satisfied with the quality of their accommodation
In general, as the average room price of a college increases, the net percentage of students who are satisfied with the quality of their accommodation also tends to increase. However, this correlation is very weak and there are a significant number of colleges who are outliers to this trend. Some colleges (most notably Homerton and Trinity) are doing better than the trend, with low average rents and high satisfaction with quality.
Others appear to be providing a lower quality of accommodation whilst charging anomalously high rents. These include Lucy Cavendish, Newnham, Murray Edwards, Girton and Hughes Hall. Students at these colleges appear not to be getting good value for money. Women’s colleges are significantly overrepresented in this group, and postgraduate colleges also appear to be.
Another theme of interest is that some of the colleges, where quality does seem to reflect rent prices, are not colleges where students perceive rents to be fair. For instance, the three colleges where high rents seem to be mirrored by high-quality accommodation (Queen’s, Downing, and Robinson) are also all colleges where the majority of students did not believe that their accommodation was fair, with -54%, -52%, and -68% net percentage perception of fairness respectively. This suggests that students at some colleges are paying a lot for rooms that they know are high quality, but which they would prefer not to be paying for if they had the choice.
4) The more you pay, the less likely you are to feel that your accommodation is value for money.
There is a strong negative correlation between the average weekly rent price and the perceived value for money of accommodation by students. This suggests that students who are paying more are not getting accommodation which is sufficiently better than cheaper rooms to justify the extra cost. In an ideal world, even if rents and room quality varied all students should believe that they are getting good value for money. The fact that this is not the case suggests that those colleges charging higher average rents are failing to convince their students that the extra cost is worthwhile.
It is of note again that those with the highest levels of dissatisfaction are women’s colleges, graduate colleges and colleges without banded systems of room classification and rent prices.
These are issues that have often been discussed in the past, but this year’s Big Cambridge Survey does bring into focus the extent to which students feel unhappy with the current situation. Housing and living costs are among the causes of the mental health and wellbeing crises students face, and any appropriate response to that crisis must tackle its roots. We cannot separate the current state of accommodation in the collegiate university from that of university funding nationally, and also the stark inequalities in wealth and income between colleges.
Here at CUSU, we want to facilitate and support action aimed at tackling rent and living costs at college, in ways led by students and student representatives. Today we held an open meeting with representatives from colleges, in our first rent forum of the year, where we shared these figures and discussed the various ways in which we could aim to tackle rents. We want to work with all students to help fight the issue using a plurality of tactics. Get involved in any way you can.
Evie, Matt, and Shadab