New fees may make social divisions worse

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.

By Rhiannon Willams

By Rhiannon Willams

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.

12 comments

  1. 13 Dec ’09 at 3:21 am

    Derwent Resident

    Really I don’t see the problem with this, and neither does anyone else I’ve spoken to (though admittedly living in Derwent this likely would have some bias). It’s grossly unfair that I, in my 1960s prefab room with single-glazing, should be paying exactly the same as someone in New Goodricke who doesn’t have an ensuite, and you do touch upon this in your article. Having only two bands is just madness, at the other end of the scale my friend, who’s lucky enough to have one of the only ensuites in Derwent (one which, I might add, is leaky and mouldy), is paying the same as someone in Alcuin or New Vanbrugh. It’s simply not fair.

    As for these “class divisions”, for me they’ve yet to really materialise. As someone in Derwent, I feel more resentment towards Langwith than I do Alcuin or James, and then that’s purely because we’re obliged to as part of the college spirit. I’ve met people in seminars and lectures from Alcuin, and knowing what college they’re in has no bearing on how I think of them.

    As well as this, there’s the fact that, ultimately, you can go to whatever college you want. I’m quite financially able enough to afford accommodation in Alcuin or New Vanbrugh or wherever, as is everyone else here, we all have our student loans. The poorer you are, the more you get. I could afford the extra £700 or whatever and still have enough left over for a comfortable existence, as, I’m sure could most other people in standard accommodation. I don’t think of those who live in the new colleges as any more financially able than myself or my fellow Derwenters.

    At the end of the day, the only real resentment I personally feel is against the fact that I’m paying exactly the same as someone in far nicer conditions, one which I am sure is felt by many others here…

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  2. Derwent Resident – do you believe people who get paid more should pay higher taxes? Exactly the same principle applies here.

    The reason there is already YUSU active policy against this (passed two years ago), is to prevent certain colleges from becoming simply not an option for those who can’t afford it.

    As for your figures. I’m afraid you’re wrong. The student loan is not enough for some people to pay for accommodation and living expenses. Remember, quite a few students come from very difficult financial backgrounds (and I realise I’m being as vague as you in terms of facts, but you can ask Ben Humphrys for some stats on this), and simply cannot afford anything but the standard accommodation. Just because you don’t personally know them, it does not mean they don’t exist. Far from it.

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  3. Think you’ll find that people who earn more do pay higher taxes…

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  4. The problem is that rent on campus is far too high across the board. Better for poorer students to be able to afford some accommodation and not live with the better off than just not be able to afford York at all.

    What’s the cheapest room gonna be on campus next year? Bet you could rent privately for the same.

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  5. @ Ed. That was my point. It was a rhetorical question.

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  6. Dan that’s rubbish

    When you factor in bills and a 52 week let, then living off campus is much more expensive than on campus. In 08/09 i was in New vanbrugh and paid 1k a term for my accomodation. This year i am paying less, but because of bills and having to rent the house over the summer it works out significantly more

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  7. To explain what I was saying a bit better:

    “It’s grossly unfair that I, in my 1960s prefab room with single-glazing, should be paying exactly the same as someone in New Goodricke who doesn’t have an ensuite, and you do touch upon this in your article.”

    When someone earning £100k a year pays more tax than someone else earning £10k a year, they don’t receive more national defence, more state education or more NHS. Differentiated responsibility on this basis is part of our everyday life.

    The University rent banding system is based on exactly the same principle.

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  8. In the 6 bed place I last rented, it cost £250 pcm, with water included. Once we factored in Sky and utilities, you’re looking at £300 pcm, from next year you will not find anything for under £300 pcm. Rooms on campus are going to be going for £500pcm, you tell me that’s value. The worst possible room on campus is still going to cost the equivalent of what you would earn doing 12.5 hours a week in the local shop/bar. That’s before you buy books, go out, enjoy yourself.

    For some, it may still work out cheaper/better on campus, but even so, that hardly makes it a good deal.

    With regards Sam, the better off should indeed pay a tax to subsidise the worst off, but that shouldn’t mean they can’t still live in the plush accommodation while the poorer students live in the worse, it should mean that the poorer accommodation is considerably cheaper.

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  9. Sam, you claim that

    “The University rent banding system is based on exactly the same principle.”

    The difference between university rent and tax is that in the case of tax, you pay depending on how much you earn. Not so in the case of university rent. This makes any comparison between the two pointless.

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  10. @ Anon: the similarity is that both are based, on some level, on ability to pay. With the more expensive accommodation being ‘subsidised’ (in some fashion) to make it open for everyone. This makes the ‘comparison’, as you put it, valid.

    If you put more bands in University rent, you make certain whole colleges unavailable to certain individuals.

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  11. “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.”

    Who exactly is ‘we’? The only reason such stereotypes exist is that some people spread them through articles like this one.
    A.

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  12. Peter…

    You lived in New Vanbrugh therefore you paid for an ensuite room. This means at the least you were paying a minimum of £95 per week.

    I don’t know how expensive your house is or how often you have your heating on but you’re a fool if you’re paying more than this per week in off campus accommodation.

    I know you say we should “factor in 52 week let” but it’s your choice to stay/not stay in the house over the holidays.

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