MSP attacks ’deeply shocking’ 8% rents rise for St Andrews’ students
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Mark Ruskell described the hike as “deeply shocking” and pointed to the institution’s “ significant financial reserves” at a time when he said prospective students were being “plunged” into poverty.
But the university said the Green MSP had misconstrued its balance sheets, and it had worked with student associations to set rents and extensive cost of living support packages.
Mr Ruskell raised the issue at the Scottish Parliament this week as well as writing to the principal of the university, He has also raised it with Graeme Dey, Minister for Higher and Further Education, who said he would take it up.
The Fife MSP said a study reported that the University of St Andrews already has the most expensive student halls in the UK outside of London, with many first year students and international students paying £195 a week - and the 8% hike was much higher than the 5% rise in rents introduced by Fife Council for its tenants.
Mr Ruskell also pointed to the university’s financial reserves which he said were £350.8m in 2021/22, adding: “The decision to increase rents in student halls by 8% in the middle of the most acute cost of living crisis in a generation is deeply shocking. This prestigious University has significant financial reserves, yet prospective students are being plunged into poverty to protect the institution’s savings.
“I’m glad to hear that the Minister plans to write formally to the University of St Andrews about the decision. It has a chance to make this right and reverse this decision now, before it’s too late.”
Mr Ruskell’s comments prompted a detailed response from the university.
A spokesperson said information on its reserves had been “misconstrued” adding: “Reserves in a balance sheet are the funds that an organisation like the university needs to ensure the ongoing delivery of the business. We operate on very tight margins with virtually all that we generate spent on maintaining world-class, research-led teaching, without the luxury of a massive investment pool to call upon.”She said the university works closely with the Students’ Association to set rents as well as on the provision of an extensive cost-of-living support package for any students facing financial difficulty.
The statement continued: “Rents in halls and managed accommodation will rise by approximately 8% next year to address major increases in energy, material and maintenance costs, and general inflation. It is standard for accommodation fees to increase in accordance with RPI (Retail Price Index) each year.“Accommodation fees are set in consultation with elected student representatives. When the discussions began in October last year, RPI was at 12% and forecast to increase further.
“The Student Association president negotiated to bring the increase down to 8.3%, with a lower rise in Whitehorn Halls of 5%. The president also made a strong case to protect students most in need by increasing the accommodation award to £1750 from £1500, which the University accepted. He additionally secured an increase in budget of 17% next year, from £85 to £100 per student for hall committees.
“We recognise that the current cost-of-living crisis is difficult for everyone, which is why we are investing more than £500,000 in a range of measures designed to support students and staff, including a major travel subsidy and meal deals which are proving exceptionally popular. It is also why the Student President pushed so hard to peg rent increases below RPI, and to increase the support available to students in most need.”