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Murray Edwards sends students rent survey asking how much they spend on clothes

Medwards students were asked how much they spent on “clothes” and “cosmetics” each term

In response to the student-led ‘cut the rent’ campaign, Murray Edwards college have reportedly released a ‘accommodation, rent and finance survey’ to students which aims to collect information on their spending habits and opinions on their current accommodation.

The survey not only asks for an estimate of students’ termly budgets but requires them to give a detailed breakdown of precisely how much money they spend on things such as food, clothes, cosmetics, leisure and books.

It was emailed to students earlier today by the college, who claimed that ‘the findings of this survey will help us shape future College policies on accommodation, welfare and the provision of financial support’, emphasising that ‘the fuller picture we have, the better our policies will be’. The email also asserts that the College ‘takes these issues very seriously’.

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Students of Murray Edwards received this email with a link to a survey.

This has received considerable backlash from students. One twitter user commented ‘as if the reason we can’t afford our rent is because we’re spending too much on makeup and topshop orders and not because it’s £200 a week’. Others are frustrated as they believe that by producing their own survey, the college has disregarded previous student-led surveys into the issue.

One of these was the collection of testimonies compiled in Michaelmas by the Medwards Collective, a student-led group in opposition to the rising rent. These testimonies highlight major flaws with Medwards accommodation, commenting how there is ‘little correlation between value and cost’, with reports of carpetless rooms with mice infestations, single-glazed windows which don’t shut, and ‘unpainted brick walls with crumbling cement’.

The testimonials also detail the hardship that this causes low-income students, with reports of some having to work multiple jobs to supplement insufficient bursaries and being unable to afford May Ball tickets. One even went as far to comment that ‘the situation is slowly spiralling into a moral one – is it right to watch students suffer to live?’.

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An extract from one of the testimonies which was read at an open meeting with the College.

The Medwards Collective has since responded to the College’s actions by releasing a statement claiming that the survey ‘invalidates and dismisses the one that we conducted months ago’, further stating that ‘if all college truly wanted was evidence of student opinion on rent then they could have used the data that we collected’. The statement also raises concerns that the college are inquiring into the details of students’ financial incomings and outgoings in order to ‘inspect, invalidate and undermine experiences of financial distress and hardship’ and discourages students from disclosing such details.

The Collective has also circulated a guide on responding to the College’s survey amongst students, which provides a more detailed critique of the survey. In this document, the tone of the survey is described as ‘gendered and misogynistic’ due to spending on cosmetics being highlighted rather than other areas, such as sports. The guide also deems certain elements of the survey as ‘inappropriate’, including students being asked to rate the importance of medical requirements, and essential expenses such as travel to and from university not being accounted for.

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The Tab contacted Murray Edwards for comment. A spokesperson from the college responded that:

“We understand some of the questions in the survey came across as invasive and insensitive; that was never our intention and we have apologised to our students."

"As of this morning (Tuesday 30 April), we have written to all students to let them know we have removed the detailed questions on living expenses from the survey; only the questions around termly budget, and rent and accommodation remain. We will disregard any answers to the more detailed questions around living expenses that have already been submitted."

"The College survey is in no way intended to invalidate or dismiss the survey organised by students last November. Last year’s survey provided the College with invaluable information and we would like to thank everyone involved in running it. The College survey builds on the survey organised by students. We designed the survey to help give us a clearer picture of the nature and extent of student financial need. We hope the results from the survey, alongside the students’ survey, will help us to understand student concerns and enable us to shape future accommodation policies and student support initiatives in collaboration with the JCR and the student body more broadly.”

The Tab spoke to a current first-year student at Medwards about her experiences with navigating this issue whilst being a bursary student. She told us that her Medwards bursary is £1800 for the year, which is the same as the cost of her rent for one term, further detailing that ‘the rent will increase by 2.4% next year due to inflation, but the bursary will not be increasing to match that’.

She also mentioned that although she needed to work during the holidays to be able to afford to continue coming to University, she was told instead to ‘focus on [her] studies and take a holiday’. Furthermore, she is currently on a waiting list for second year accommodation, as there is an alleged shortage, and this will only be guaranteed to her if someone intermits.

Despite months of student campaigning, it seems as if the controversy surrounding Murray Edwards’ accommodation will remain ongoing.