LSE is about to increase halls rents by 3%, at a time when grants are being cut and loans means tested. It is an affront to students and their financial means, and it is now time to end arbitrary increases and start working towards an affordable student experience.
It's no revelation that living in London is expensive - but for students, reliant on either state support, scholarships and bursaries from the university, or their parents, it is increasingly difficult to study in the capital. While increased tuition fees have not overall deterred access to university, they have shaped the choices that students make: students are more likely to live closer to home, according to a study conducted by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON). For universities like the LSE, this reinforces the dominance of students from the South coming to study at the university, and the sheer scarcity of students north of the M25.
What role do halls rents have to play in this? Year on year, rents have continued to increase at a rate higher than the amount that student grants increase by. Similarly, LSE grants generous bursaries which are however set at a flat rate and feature no inflationary increases - meaning students experience a net decrease in the amount of financial support available to them each year.
Worse, in the context of the loss of grants for UK/EU students and the conversion to loans, students are set to suffer too. Much less talked about by the National Union of Students and the sector more widely, is the fact that means testing will be introduced for maintenance loans themselves. This change will see students receiving loans relative to their incomes, and will have a significant detrimental effect on what students are able to access.
So, a student living in Bankside House, with a family income of £25,000, the national average, will be left with around £6,400 to live on. An income of £30-35,000 will get you £91 a week, and as soon as you reach £50,000+, you're running a deficit.
It could be argued that those incomes are high enough for families to be able to subsidise their child, but it is a risky assumption. Family income is only one measure - we don't know how big a family might be, what financial pressures they are under, or if they are actually willing to fund their child. Students may be unable to get any support whatsoever if their family has disowned them, especially in the case of LGBT+ students who often face this as a reality.
LSE students have told us that in order to live, they have had to go into overdrafts, take up part time work, or apply for emergency hardship. Or, they commute from home and miss out on a vital part of the student experience, or don't bother coming to the LSE at all.
Postgraduates also suffer from increases; when the new government loans do not even cover the cost of an LSE degree, anything that incurs greater costs to students is a deterrent to postgraduate study.
It is especially hard to swallow when we think of how LSE can often lavishly spend its money: the Director, who has overseen the biggest decline in student satisfaction, receives an annual salary of over £300,000, plus a free apartment overlooking the Thames, just a stone's throw away from Bankside.
Meanwhile, over 200 people are paid over £100,000. Moreover, staff receive a 4 percent increase in their salaries each year, whilst international students pay inflation on their fees of 4 percent, and students in halls pay an additional 3 percent. Inequitable.
This week LSE will be deciding whether or not to approve the increase to halls. If it is to be genuinely committed to supporting students at university, they should reject this and implement a freeze as a minimum starting point.
Because LSE, the rent is just too damn high.