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The ensuing back and forth led to some minor concessions. Proposals we were offered were rejected in deliberation with elected student reps at Union Council, on the grounds that they still presented steep increases without a satisfactory explanation.
Most recently, earlier this week, we had some promising conversations towards a workable compromise. Unfortunately, the College’s resultant “final offer” (£3m out of a total ~£110m over 5 years) wasn’t enough for us to be willing to endorse it. Though it does make a small difference, this offer will still lead to steep increases in rent, beyond the realms of what’s affordable for students, and we don’t feel the College has truly engaged us on the fundamental premises that led to these costs. We’re now exploring other options to effect change on this matter.
The table below shows the three proposals that were taken to and rejected by Council. The increases represent average percentage increases from the average rent of the previous year. For proposal 3, this just shows an example of how the £3 million reduction could have been split over 5 years, and is not a suggested break-down to the College.
|Effective reduction over 5 years
|Proposal 3 (example)
|£2.9 million + £100k for hall senior discount
At the last Union Council meeting where we rejected the College's final proposal, the representatives collectively put together the Union's stance on hall rent negotiations. It reads as follows:
The Union believes:
We wanted to share our key takeaways:
1) Saying “no” works
Though the place we’ve ended up is far from ideal, it does represent a concession on the part of the College that didn’t come by default. The College were expecting us to focus on how to spread the rent increases across different halls, as our predecessors did, rather than on the increases themselves. By saying “no”, and having a more holistic conversation, we were able to shine a spotlight on this issue and shift the College’s position, leading to the £3m reduction.
2) Access to information matters
While some of the information we asked for was shared with us, lots of what we were given fell short of the detail we would have expected either because the College was unwilling to provide the information, or the information didn’t exist. No one can be expected to make informed decisions without the right information, and this created an asymmetry in the negotiation.
3) The College’s finances are prioritised over students’ finances
While the College may say what’s being offered is affordable compared to other London university halls, there are some issues with this:
- It’s not necessarily clear if this will still be the case in 5 years’ time
- Many of these universities rely on private accommodation, whereas we are negotiating over an in-house provision
- Rent in our halls would be increasing far in excess of rents in private accommodation
- By the College’s own calculations, after any kind of increase on this year’s rents, it would be cheaper for the average student to live outside halls than in them. This is difficult to understand: private landlords make a profit, while the College seek to break even.
First year halls of residence are very important to the undergraduate experience; to “develop a sense of home and community.” The idea that no central funding should go into supporting them should not be taken for granted, yet staff members on key College committees were never presented with a proposal for such a subsidy.
4) The university is working against itself
Simply put, too many decisions at Imperial are taken in exclusion of each other. While the Provost’s new Academic Strategy speaks about holistically considering the experience of students (i.e. acknowledging the blurred lines between our academic and non-academic experience of Imperial), the College’s proposals on rent remain antithetical to any work staff and students do to improve our student satisfaction, or supporting underrepresented students in line with regulatory requirements. We shouldn’t be in a situation where the efforts and spending of one team in the College directly counteract that of another.
5) Working together is important
We ran for these roles on a simple principle: that those affected by decisions Imperial makes -- students and staff alike -- should be involved in the decision-making process. This doesn’t mean being consulted only to be put to one side: we need to work in partnership from the beginning on major issues like this. Whether it's the sale of a medical school building, decisions over a new campus, or student rents in halls, the university needs to have more faith that all parties want what’s best for Imperial as a whole. This would lead to higher levels of trust across our campuses, and less ill-feeling when difficult decisions have to be made, and better decisions -- even where the fundamentals can't change, sometimes specific parts of a decision (e.g. the design of a building, if not the location) can be very important.