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Students "living in poverty as a result of expensive halls" at University of Aberdeen

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Last month Aberdeen University Students´ Association launched Aberdeen: Cut the Rent, a campaign to force the university administration to curb the price of accommodation. Between an online and physical petition, they have so far gathered over 1,300 signatures.

This move from AUSA follows building pressure from the student body, many of whom are struggling to cope with the increasing costs of first year life in Aberdeen.

Lewis Macleod, Communities Officer at AUSA, cited previous student-led campaigns as inspiration, saying “the success of rent strikers at UCL certainly demonstrates that, through direct action, we can win.

“Over the last five years the cheapest halls have increased from £69 per week to £99 per week […] The awful reality is that students are living in poverty as a result of expensive halls, and it is essential the University listen to the demands of its students by cutting and capping the rent.”

“The University of Aberdeen recommends students should work no more than 16 hours a week, yet with such expensive halls of residence, many have no other option.”

In a statement from their press office, Aberdeen University replied to the campaign by saying that some of their most affordable accommodation has decreased in price or stayed the same in the last five years, with some minor increases in weekly rate.

“The cost of our self-catered accommodation has remained in line with our competitors and our prices are similar to other major Scottish unis, including Strathclyde, RGU and Edinburgh University.”

While this statement is undoubtedly true in relation to price range alone, what sets Aberdeen apart from most of its competitors is its average cost of halls (102% of the standard student loan). For instance the cheapest and most expensive halls in Aberdeen are similarly priced to their Edinburgh counterparts, but Edinburgh offers many rooms at less than £100 a week, whereas at £99 a week Hillhead is the only accommodation offered by Aberdeen at this level.

The only competitor mentioned in the university's press release with a similar average rent is Robert Gordon University – as the only other university in Aberdeen it could easily be argued that these prices are representative of the city´s housing crisis. But with doubt being cast on the future of the oil industry the property market seems to be on the decline, with a 20% decrease in house prices being recorded between 2015 and 2016.

Aberdeen University says that given the facilities offered at their halls, the current rent charged “represents excellent value for money in the city”, but the quality of their accommodation, or lack thereof, is also at the centre of the campaign. Many students, particularly in Adam Smith (one of the university´s cheapest halls), have encountered problems in their living quarters.

Daniel Holligan, who stayed in Adam Smith in the 2014-15 academic year, was one of many in the building to have mould in his room.

“It wasn't there when I moved in - it got bad during winter; it was pretty extensive and right next to my pillow so I was sleeping with it right in my face.”

Daniel repeatedly complained to the university, but university staff only ever wiped the mould off, and never applied mould killer or damp seal to the walls.

“They blamed me which was ridiculous. They wanted me to open my window for two hours a day during winter, but it wasn't condensation - it was damp coming through dodgy walls.”

Aberdeen: Cut the Rent demand that the university cap their accommodation fees at 50% of the maximum student loan of £6,750 provided by SAAS, and set a limit on rent at the cheapest halls of 50% of the £4,750 standard student loan.

According to the group, “Under these demands, all halls would cost no more than £86.50 per week based on a 39-week contract, and the cheapest three halls would cost no more than £60 per week based on the same length of contract.”

It´s unclear how Aberdeen University will respond to these particular demands, especially given that this would make their top end accommodation cheaper than those offered by nearly every other British university.  

What´s clear is that AUSA are taking the campaign very seriously, and have indicated that they are “planning for further action moving forward”, whatever that may mean.

To find out more, follow the campaign on Facebook or you can sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/sir-iain-diamond-aberdeen-cut-the-rent




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