The University of York could soon be turning into a real-life social melodrama based on college accommodation. The recent proposition from the University to introduce rent banding will have social consequences beyond the financial worries we currently face.
Rent banding can only suggest impressions of social class division. We’re already under extremist misconceptions that the inhabitants of Alcuin are snobby rich kids who don’t understand the concept of weekly budgeting and that those in Derwent walk around campus like filthy tramps because they’re unable to take a shower more than once a week. And these stereotypes exist even before any financial banding.
Those in the highest band will assume the stereotype of having an aristocratic superiority complex, and presume the lower bands to be disgruntled and jealous. It may be wrong, but everyone’s guilty of being judgmental at times. The University should recognise these implications as separate from their own concerns about generating more income. Students don’t need to be reminded of disparity within campus accommodation – we already know. But this doesn’t mean that the actual students living in various colleges are any different from each other.
If (or more likely, when) banding comes into practice, I have visions of next year’s freshers from the lowest band standing on Central Hall bridge, above its blue glow, giving sorrowful renditions of ‘Part of that World’ à la Ariel from The Little Mermaid. In reality, only when they get to know people from other colleges and avoid judgments based on living standards, will they realise that banding provides nothing more than a label.
In fairness, the concept of rent banding may be necessary in some cases. It’s unreasonable to be paying the same amount for the same type of room in Langwith as in new Goodricke; where the latter would clearly be nicer. However, it’s the subsequent segregation of students because of their financial means that is unfair. By using as few bands as possible, we will be able to promote equality – aren’t we meant to be living in a society attempting to overcome prejudice based on financial income?
It seems that the plan to turn the lowest band into catered accommodation is somewhat flawed. For those with financial restrictions, being forced to pay for a school dinner-esque food package at nearly £5 per meal, we could budget our food shopping better for ourselves. What’s more is that accommodation which was previously the cheapest will no longer actually have that particular attraction to prospective students.
Attempting to avoid the York accommodation television melodrama seems futile. There’s nothing we can do other than campaign to keep “accommodation equality”. In the end, it will not be us, but the new students of next year who will be choosing their accommodation when rent banding comes into focus. For the University, proportionate charging might have an impact on its students well-being in a realm additional to their finances.
There is an increase in rent every year; yet the University need not publicly create implications of inequality. Rent banding intrinsically alludes to a financial hierarchy. The University of York does not need be turned into a Dickensian social commentary.