Think of your average university student: you can call her Lily. Think of what her day-to-day life might look like: she will attend classes, meet up with friends, procrastinate on impending essays, and, at the end of the day, return to her flat or university halls. Now think of her attending a university like UCL. At UCL, she will, most probably, live in one of its largest residence halls, Ramsey Hall. This will cost her approximately £206 a week, and like other UCL students, Lily will feel the financial strains of uncontrollably high (and ever-increasing) rent prices.
Currently, UCL is faced with over 150 students refusing to pay their rent, in protest of increasing prices. Many claim that these rising prices are performing a form of social cleansing: they are overlooking students’ diverse socio-economic backgrounds and overlooking the fact that not every student is able to afford high rent prices. So if UCL is facing such circumstances, how does the Edinburgh housing market (in terms of both university and private accommodation) look like for students?
As students returned from their Christmas holidays this year – saying goodbye to the short-lived comforts of home and hello to the inevitable January blues – a hoard of flat-related advertisements came flooding in. From emails through the university about available flats, to posters of ‘Flat-Mating’ around Pollock (an innovative way of seeking new flatmates), to Facebook updates on newly-signed leases, it was clear that the annual season of flat-hunting – and flat-stressing – had begun. But this stress was not unprecedented: Gordon Maloney, former NUS Scotland president, points out that high rent prices are not exclusive to London. In a recent Times Higher Education article, he explains that ‘in parts of Edinburgh…rents have been going up by as much as 10 per cent a year and student support isn’t anywhere near keeping up with that.’ The Scotsman reported that towards the end of 2015, a two-bedroom flat in Scotland’s capital cost, on average, £850 per month – a significant increase from 2014’s average of £781, and an average of £53 more expensive than Glaswegian flats. And it is with little surprise to find that student responses corresponded to this: Ketaki Zodgekar, a first year student, commented that rent prices ‘were way too high’, while Sam Chan, another first year student, states that ‘we [essentially] have to choose between price, quality of flat, or location.’ But how fair is this coercion to choose? When it comes to quality, students aren’t seeking luxurious living spaces, but rather decent, habitable flats; when it comes to location, they aren’t seeking selective highly areas, but rather areas close to the university; and when it comes to prices, they are simply seeking rent fees analogous to their living spaces.
The cheapest university accommodations at UCL starts at £542 a month (coming to approximately £5550 in an academic year), but most students are assigned a room costing over £800 a month. In Edinburgh, things aren’t drastically different: university accommodation rent ranges from £5350 to £6916 a year, breaking down to approximately £594 – £768 per month; a similar starting point to UCL, but a much lower ending point. In comparison to other student-saturated cities, Edinburgh’s prices seem unwarranted. While Glasgow’s accommodation ranges from £4400 to £6289 a year, Reading’s start from £100 a week, which adds up to approximately £4000 per academic year.
A recent Guardian article covering the UCL housing crisis explains that ‘in an era of seemingly limitless austerity, we have become desensitized to relatively basic things being put beyond the reach of ordinary people.’ And although Edinburgh may not be facing the kind of crisis UCL is at the moment, we still fall within the top tier of student housing prices – we still overlook the diverse socio-economic backgrounds of students, and as such, fuel said desensitization.