“We are students, not millionaires”: debate rages over Newnham rents

Hazel Shearing 14 November 2013

Last month The Cambridge Student’s investigation revealed undergraduate accommodation at Newnham costs at least £355 per year over the minimum annual maintenance loan. Now, outraged students are campaigning to change the college’s “extortionate” rents.

After the TCS article in Issue 5 this term was shared by one Newnham student on Facebook, concern spread. Some students felt strongly enough to create the ‘Campaign For Justice at Newnham’ aimed at tackling the rent problem. As a result, an event was set up to discuss what organiser Katie Akers described on the Facebook page as “extortionate” rents. The RENT event aimed to give students a platform on which to air their views and create a list of grievances or petition with which to confront the college.

At the event, Rinna Keefe highlighted the issue of transparency: “I found Newnham’s presentation of living costs etc so obscure and difficult to understand as to feel almost dishonest”.

Another student, Catriona Corke, said, “Raising rents above inflation year-on-year is not sustainable. We are students, not millionaires.”

JCR President Becky Wetten spoke at the event. She emphasised the JCR’s lack of authority as a student body and recommended liaising with staff.

Indeed, a meeting was held with the Bursar Ian du Quesnay and the Senior Tutor. TCS understands that no agreement was reached. When contacted, Mr du Quesnay did not provide comment.

Akers spoke to TCS further about the growing Campaign for Justice at Newnham: “We aimed primarily for transparency from college… as to why our rents were frankly exorbitant, and why relatively, Newnham students are paying so much more than their counterparts at other colleges.

“We started off with peaceful intentions, on the basis that we were sure Newnham were able to justify their costs. We were all inclined to believe that our college would never be directly exploiting its students as a cash resource. How wrong we were.”

According to the Campaign for Justice, rents at Newnham increase by an average of 6 per cent per year for each cohort of students.

However, students’ concerns stretch far beyond the cost of rents alone. Newnham students are required to pay a Kitchen Fixed Charge, which amounts to at least £253 per term.

These costs should be considered in the light of the college’s notably high fines. As TCS revealed earlier this year (Lent Issue 2, 24 January 2013), Newnham raised £12,872 (a third of the University’s total fines) from students in the academic year 2011-’12, mostly through ‘housekeeping fines’.

Another issue is that all Newnham students pay the same rent for their rooms. According to the website, this is so that every student “has the same chance of living in the most beautiful rooms in the College”. However, students feel that this is unfair as the size and condition of the room does not affect the price.

According to Akers, “The RENT campaign at Newnham has now escalated from one that called for transparency to a politicised movement that demands immediate action.

“Newnham College are using fear tactics to put a stop to us protesting. Our bursar, far from being neutral, appears to be following a policy that is deliberately exploitative.”

Heather Davis, Governing Body Rep for Newnham JCR, is more optimistic about the rent problem at the College. Davis told TCS, “The JCR are currently devising a strategy which involves the further investigation of the transparency of information concerning rents, alongside the creation of a sub-committee, where representatives of the undergraduates as well as the MCR and SCR can meet on a regular basis to discuss this information.

“There is an ongoing discussion with senior members of college, and we are hopeful that through this collective effort we will come to a positive solution.”