Thursday evening was the University Council meeting at which I presented, on behalf of the University of Bath Students’ Union, our campaign against the disgraceful rent increases.
A campaign which has seen thousands of students speak out against a change that won’t even affect them, simply because they care and feel it’s the right thing to do.
A campaign which has seen Bath Alumni get in touch to voice their concerns and ask what they can do to help.
A campaign which has highlighted how Bath students feel the University is becoming increasingly transactional and business orientated in its nature, and far less about the students.
Now despite the word spreading across social media as well as the local news and radio about our campaign, there was pretty much silence from the University for over a week…
Until last Tuesday, that is, when the University made us an offer. An offer that meant they would reduce the prices of around 800 rooms (Eastwood and Carpenter House) as well as a commitment to improving the process next year and engaging more with the student body with regards to accommodation.
Now whilst we absolutely acknowledge that this was a step in the right direction, we simply didn’t believe that it was enough and felt that that more could be done. After all it meant the average rent increase would still be inflation busting at 4.6%, rather than 5.5%.
And so, the University Council remained our next step. For those that don’t know, Council is the governing body of the University, which has a general responsibility for the conduct of all the University’s affairs. It has a majority of lay members who are neither staff nor students of the University.
At the meeting, I gave an impassioned speech, full of well-evidenced arguments, emphasising the huge strength of feeling on this issue and the completely unfair nature of these increases, which undoubtedly struck a chord with many in the room.
I was humbled to see several Council members speak up in support and applaud our campaign. The support that so many of you have shown towards future students of this University was also highly commended.
They called upon the University to have a real think about its actions and the financial burden being placed upon future students, for factors completely out of their control.
Yet simultaneously I was incredibly frustrated and annoyed to see the inflexibility of some other members, speaking of how they just couldn’t go against their ‘principle’ of ring-fencing the accommodation budget, despite the University generating surpluses that are consistently above the targets.
As one member referred to the situation as: “It’s difficult but that’s life”, which was not only unhelpful but rather offensive, I couldn’t help but sense what a shocking inability it demonstrated to understand the issues affecting students today. It exemplified quite how far removed some of the University’s governing body are from the realities of our generation.
After a lengthy discussion, it was concluded that whilst Council empathised with the issue being raised, it was not able to budge on the prices for 2017/18. However, it would actively encourage the University to make changes long-term.
As I sat there, admittedly pretty overcome with emotion and absolutely gutted, the next item on the agenda was noting the architect for a brand new multi-million pound School of Management building. Talk about paradoxical.
I’ve led this campaign as SU President because of the decision that was taken by Finance Committee, which will affect future members of an organisation that I’m very proud to lead. A decision that I believe to be grossly unfair and a decision that flies in the face of attempts to widen participation and make Higher Education accessible to all.
The University of Bath undoubtedly focuses on recruiting the brightest brains, but I fear some are having to turn their backs on the hope of coming to Bath or have to make huge sacrifices when they’re here, simply because of the financial implications of being a student at Bath. This is not ok and that’s why we have to continue speak up.
As a Students’ Union, we’re currently working out our next steps with this campaign, but I can assure you that this is not the end. I’m hugely grateful for the amazing support that our student body has shown so far and I’m asking that you continue to fight this with us.
This campaign has been just a small part of a much wider narrative about what is happening to Higher Education in our country.
I started at Bath in 2011, paying £3,000 a year in tuition fees, and £118 a week for my accommodation. Fast forward six years and come this September, I’d be paying £9250 and £160 a week for the same education and room, albeit a campus with less space, longer queues and decreased student satisfaction.
I find it impossible to predict what the sector will look like in 5, 10, 15 years’ time. One thing for sure though is the way things are currently going is unsustainable and something’s going to break. The question is what, and when?