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Special report: Colleges to raise rates by up to 13% amidst cost-of-living crisis

As students pay their battels for Michaelmas Term, they will be faced with increased costs for accommodation as the cost of living crisis bites. But these rent hikes could be anything from 1.8-12.9%, depending on which college a student attends, highlighting another discrepancy between the experiences of students at different colleges.

For many students, these rent increases will amount to a real-terms rent cut because some colleges have kept them below the rate of inflation. But this does not mean that students will be left with money to spare. The value of maintenance loans has fallen to its lowest level in seven years, according to a June report by the Institute For Fiscal Studies, placing increased pressure on students’ budgets. 

Cherwell has collected data on rent changes from colleges across the University. Of the colleges which responded, the average increase in rents was 7.6%. However, some colleges were notable outliers. Balliol College increased charges by just 1.8%, while other colleges saw double-digit increases.

Christ Church already charged one of the highest average rents out of the university. Prices have risen by 12.9% this year, the highest Cherwell found. However, most Christ Church students actually pay less than the average rent charged for accommodation because the college provides them with financial assistance. Students from households with an annual income up to £27,500 can access a 50% discount on their rent and ‘season tickets’ for college dinners. Those earning up to £42,875 can access a 25% discount.

A recent analysis by Cherwell found that students of wealthier colleges could expect to pay less for their rent than those at poorer ones. For the 2021-22 academic year, seven of the ten wealthiest colleges ranked among the ten lowest weekly rents in the University. 

The uncertain economic climate has prompted the University to recommend that students anticipate that their living expenses could rise by 5% or more each year. A key driver of inflation in the UK (and elsewhere) is the cost of producing energy, which has soared since Russia invaded Ukraine. Similarly, rising utilities costs have driven up rents in Oxford: students living in Jesus College’s Turl Street site are facing rent increases 2.5% more than their college-mates living in college-owned accommodation in Jericho or Cowley. These students do not have their electricity included in their rent, and thus have to pay for it separately.

Colleges also use different methods of determining the amount by which to raise rents. St Peter’s used the Consumer Price Index in Michaelmas Term 2021 plus 2.7%. Christ Church used the Van Noorden Index, an Oxford-specific measure of inflation. The index has been accused of lacking transparency, and failing to take into account the different levels of provision available to students at different colleges. Tia Patel and Samuel Prosser, President and Treasurer of the Christ Church JCR, told Cherwell the common room had not been involved in these negotiations, but are always available for students to discuss related matters, or direct them to extra financial support.

Some common rooms were able to successfully negotiate with colleges to reduce proposed rent hikes. Hertford and Pembroke both initially proposed to raise rents by 12.8% in line with the Van Noorden Index. At Pembroke, student common rooms negotiated the hike down to 9.6%, while Hertford secured 8.5%.

While not all common rooms were able to negotiate rent hikes down to more comfortable levels, colleges have taken measures to support students. Jesus raised bursaries by £100, and Queen’s increased the amount of money in the College hardship fund. Other colleges like University and Corpus Christi have agreed to implement the Oxford Living Wage of £10.50 an hour.

A spokesperson from Oxford University said: “We recognise that the rising cost of living is a source of anxiety for many students and are continuing our efforts to ensure our financial support addresses this. The University of Oxford offers a range of financial support packages to help students from all backgrounds to study with us. This includes funding for undergraduates from lower-income households through the Crankstart Scholarship, which has received an uplift of £500 (10%) from July 2022.  In addition, support can be accessed through University and college hardship funds for students who find themselves in unexpected financial difficulty. We also have a number of scholarship schemes which provide full funding to graduate applicants from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. Our ambition is to ensure that no one with outstanding academic potential is deterred from studying here because of their background, personal circumstances, or finances.”

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