St Catherine’s College has proposed a 11.8% increase in rent and hall prices for the next academic year (2022-3). College accommodation rent would increase from around £1480 to around £1654 per term.
Each year the college reviews its domestic spending to estimate living costs for the following year. The 11.8% inflation in college living prices is an estimated figure for next year’s domestic costs which does not include any profit for the college.
This proposal is in line with the current high inflation rates. The UK annual inflation rate increased to 7% in March 2022, the highest since March 1992. Currently, prices are rising by 9% a year in the UK.
Other factors are also contributing to this figure. The Covid-19 pandemic meant the normal cost model for accommodation could not be used to predict this year’s costs. In Hilary Term 2021, the college received no rent.
The college has found that the amount they increased rent by was lower than the costs increased by. The fees this year received from students were not substantial enough to cover all accommodation and domestic costs.
Another aspect which has led to this increase in student living costs is St Catz’s recent commitment to paying all of their staff the Oxford living wage. This increase in staff wages will result in a greater cost to the college, which is expected to be covered by an increased price for student rent and hall.
Rebecca Powell, a current JCR access rep at St Catz, found the news “disappointing”. She said: “While I appreciate that the college has financial needs and restrictions, I have serious concerns with regards to how this will impact the student body. The cost of living in Oxford is notoriously high and, in combination with restriction to work during term time, I feel that this will be another blow to students from lower-income backgrounds.”
On being asked whether she was aware of the possibility of college accommodation prices increasing prior to accepting her offer, Rebecca commented: “I knew that it was possible for rent rates to fluctuate slightly but an increase of 11% was certainly not expected… [I am] completely sympathetic to the reasons that college have outlined [but] these factors should not be at the expense of those already in financially precarious situations.”
Discussions between the college student body, and its staff and finance administrators, have begun. The JCR is running a survey to assess the financial standing of its student body. It hopes to use this information to inform the college about the likely impacts of this rent increase upon its students. This will inform further decision making.
Rebecca does find it “reassuring” to know that negotiations between the college and JCR representatives are taking place, and she hopes the collection of data about students’ finances will provide “significant evidence that these rent increases are unacceptable”. Nonetheless, she does still have “considerable reservations about whether these negotiations will have a significant impact”.
An 11.8% increase is, at this stage, a suggested figure. The college has not yet committed to increasing rent and hall prices by this amount. However, with colleges across the University facing financial pressures, St Catz is likely to be one of many to increase prices for its students.
When asked to comment, St Catherine’s college told Cherwell: “St Catherine’s is committed to ensuring that the experience of students living in College is the best it can be.
“The College is still working in collaboration with the JCR and the MCR on proposals for accommodation rates for the 2022-23 academic year.
“The current rates for undergraduate accommodation at St Catherine’s are the fifth lowest when compared to all other Oxford colleges. The College will continue to do everything it can to ensure that accommodation rates reflect only the actual cost to the College of the room and utilities, and will work with student representatives when doing so. When calculating these rates, St Catherine’s uses the actual predicted costs for specific services used, rather than an averaged estimate, which tends to be higher.
“Our students are our first priority and we appreciate that the current financial climate may be challenging for them and their families. We will continue to support each of our students in any way that we can, including through initiatives such as the Student Support Fund.”
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