Pooled colleges must axe rents
Pooled applicants are disadvantaged by extortionate charges
Rent is a highly emotive topic in Cambridge, with prices varying wildly from college to college. This is an issue of access to college choice, and to the University as a whole. Rent prices are often not discussed during admissions; having been involved in access for 3 years, we're told to tell prospective applicants that colleges are more similar than they are different; but this is very misleading. The cost of living is a problem of access and welfare, and must be taken seriously. "Pool" colleges in particular are guilty of worsening these issues.
If a college offers accommodation at the top of the price bracket, it must also cater for those who are restricted to tighter budgets. Whilst such a system could force segregation by wealth, these options are necessary if students are to be able to afford to live in more expensive colleges; or the fixed rent that students pay must be drastically decreased. Another solution would be to provide adequate financial support to all those who need it, not just those from a very low income background. Murray Edwards’ website states ‘We are committed to the principle that no UK student should be prevented from coming to Cambridge for financial reasons’, but an anonymous source claims that there has been at least one case of a prospective student turning down their offer after receiving their results, due to not being able to afford their living costs: this is unacceptable.
Newnham, to take one example, has a policy which means all students must pay the same rate of rent, £178 per week, regardless of the room standard. This lack of choice is highly problematic, as there is no option for a cheaper rent bracket, which is a necessity to students from a lower income background. That 30% of Newnham members are fished from the pool further worsens the situation, as they are forced to pay extortionate rent rates to study there, regardless of their original college choice.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. In this year's admissions cycle, 69% of Murray Edwards’ student body was made up of applicants from the winter pool. This means that a large majority of those who study at Murray Edwards’ did not make the choice to study there, but will be forced to pay an extortionate rate; average accommodation, including bills and kitchen fixed charge, amounts to an average of £151 per week.
When excluding graduate only colleges, (whose pooling data skews statistics), Girton has the second highest proportion of students fished from the winter pool, at 45%. Girton also adheres to a fixed rent policy, subjecting just under half of its student population to higher rent prices, of £1973 per term, without the choice for a lower budget room. Robinson also follows suit, at 38%, with minimum weekly rents at £133 and an average overall cost of £171.04.
Not all is so bleak, as Homerton and Downing may be commended for their accomodation system. Homerton, with 40% of its students coming from the winter pool, has an average rent price of £106.75, and offers (on average) Cambridge's cheapest accommodation. Downing College is a leader in room transparency: has a full breakdown of room prices and number of rooms available within each grade, and should be commended on their transparency. However their average room price leaves much to be desired.,there is no information available on the vast majority of the college websites detailing how many rooms are available within each price bracket and how these are allocated, and no average can be calculated from the data provided. Whilst there may be some rooms available at the lowest price, there is no guarantee that someone who needs them will get them.
There are two battles to be fought. Firstly, rents must be lowered at the most expensive colleges. Secondly, there must be greater transparency. This could be achieved by the creation of a centralised online database, where all financial variables are listed. All prospective applicants should be equipped with the information they need, to make an informed decision, and to force colleges to provide accommodation and facilities which are good value for money, as the rent ranges will be directly comparable.
The vast majority of students are extremely happy with the college they end up in (to the extent of college fanaticism), but we must not forget those students who are forced into colleges which charge higher rent prices. More financial aid should be available, to all who find themselves in need, and not just to those from very low-income backgrounds. This would ensure that all colleges, and the university as a whole, would be truly accessible to all.