On Wednesday, students from Wadham College’s JCR staged a sitting protest on the main quad of the College, against the Governing Body’s proposal to hike rents in both on-site accommodation and annexes, and equalise the rents for both types of accommodation over the next three years. Up to 75 students were present at the demonstration, which was aimed at the College’s governing body itself, and supported by the Wadham Student Union – the equivalent of the JCR, also including graduates – following a recent meeting in which the SU moved to reject the proposals.
Specifically, the proposals set out by the Finance Committee envisage an increase of 5% to the nightly rate of on-site accommodation, and a 9.2% increase in Merifield, the College’s main off-site annexe. The SU, on the other hand, has provided a counterproposal suggesting a 3.9% rise on the college site, and 5.4% in Merifield, whilst expressing grave concern about both ‘the unprecedented increases in rent this coming year, and the intention to equalise rents in the future.’
The Student Union objected to the proposals on the following grounds: firstly, the Merifield site is further away than any other major annexe in Oxford from its parent college, meaning that students ‘incur transportation costs and make less use of college facilities’. Secondly, there are differences in running costs between the two sites, mostly down to frequency of scouting duties; thirdly, Merifield leases tend to be longer – 11 months as opposed to 9 – meaning that an equalisation of rents would go against the policy of most Colleges and private landlords to offer cheaper nightly rates for longer-term leases; fourthly, by 2018 the rent in Merifield is forecast to be greater than the cost of living out, which would harm access to college accommodation for students of lower financial means as well as international students who couldn’t prearrange private accommodation easily; and fifthly, it would make Wadham’s commitment to access and equality seem symbolic, as opposed to being backed up by tangibly fair rent policy.
The President of Wadham SU, Taisie Tsikas, made this comment: “Wadham students are facing the possibility of a sudden rent increase of 5% for on-college accommodation and 9% for off-site accommodation. The proposed rent increases are above cost increases faced by the college, would risk widening the gap between students with different financial means, and would make the off-site accommodation more expensive than renting privately. Students held a demonstration on the front quad immediately before a meeting of Governing Body to show the fellows the strength of feeling in the student body, and now the matter has been referred back to Finance Committee for further discussion with the SU, so we’ll be working with the college to find a solution to the problem.”
Another Wadham student echoed the President: ‘I’d say what struck me was the fact that our governing body sought to increase rent for the graduate dorms in Summertown [Merifield] to a point where it’s more affordable for graduates to live out than make use of college accommodation.
By impacting the graduates as well as undergrads, this rent hike affected the entire Wadham student body, not just its SU representatives or its more vocal, radical members. At the meetings, we were all greatly opposed to this, and wanted to make it known to our warden and anyone else on the governing body. Despite the infuriating news itself, there was an uplifting sense of community; everyone wanted to participate somehow, and they did, as evidenced by the demonstration today.’
Wadham College itself did not comment.