CUSU release open letter against potential rent hike by Cambridge Colleges

The letter has been signed by eighteen JCRs and MCRs across the university

This morning, CUSU has published an open letter addressed to Heads of House, Bursars, and the Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope, in order to stand against a possible rent hike for students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter references a Varsity article, published in April, which reports that Cambridge Colleges have predicted a loss of up to £60 million in rent and dining due to the Coronavirus. CUSU, along with other undersigned student groups, is concerned that colleges might decide to raise rent prices for its students due to these losses. The open letter states: “We believe that students should not have to pay more in rent because of COVID-19. It is important to recognise that the predicted £60 million loss forecast by Colleges represents less than 1% of the Colleges’ total net assets as of 2019. The fact that some colleges have committed to no additional rent increases already shows that it is possible to consider this fairly, with student welfare in mind.”

Currently, the letter has been signed by eighteen JCRs and MCRs across the University, including the Trinity Hall JCR, the King’s College Graduate Union, and the Robinson College Students Association. It argues that students should not have to face additional rent charges in this already financially difficult time, and also points to The CUSU Big Cambridge Survey 2019, which found that 36% of students said their financial situation had a negative impact on their university experience, even before the onset of the pandemic.

To conclude, the letter states that “we are calling on all Colleges to commit to not introducing additional rent increases for the coming academic year.

“As student representatives from across the Collegiate University, we are united in our commitment to opposing unfair and unjust rent hikes across the Colleges that will make Cambridge a less accessible and less welcoming place for students.”

President of the Jesus College Student Union, Aurelio Petrucci, told The Cambridge Tab why his committee decided to sign the letter: “The Jesus College Student Union stands in solidarity with students at colleges who have seen rent rises, and encourages students to take action to ensure that colleges with hundreds of millions of pounds in endowments don’t make students bear the cost of the pandemic.

“Interest rates are historically low and colleges could borrow to ensure they get through this. It also seems irrational that colleges are choosing to concentrate the impact of the pandemic on one year of students rather than spreading it across multiple years by taking out a loan or presenting a longer-term plan for spending adjustment.”

The open letter does present an offer to “work collaboratively with colleges to help find solutions to these problems”.

JCRs and MCRs have signed this open letter with the belief that rent hikes are a real possibility for students over the coming academic year, and CUSU wishes to alert Colleges that a decision to raise prices would demonstrate “a lack of compassion for the students they exist to support.”

Stella Swain, the CUSU/GU Welfare and Rights Officer, has said: “It’s really concerning to see some colleges use the current pandemic as an excuse to raise rents for students, especially when we know that rents across colleges are already uneven, with many students suffering because they can’t afford the extortionate rents at their college.

“Students and low-paid workers shouldn’t be the ones to shoulder the financial implications of Coronavirus, especially in an institution as rich as Cambridge.”

The university has been contacted for comment.

Cover Image Credit: Peter Church (Creative Commons license)