Value for money student accommodation

A major piece of research on student perceptions of value for money, undertaken by students unions, has been published by the Office for Students. The research findings around student accommodation were that:

  • nearly a quarter of students did not feel informed about how much everything would cost as a student, with accommodation cited as one of the main  factors
  • students believe that accommodation should be subsidised by their higher education provider
  • 62% of students believe their fees should be used to fund the cost of accommodation
  • only 30% of students believe that accommodation should be entirely paid for by students (as up-front costs/additional charges), whereas 58% of students believe that accommodation fees should be partly subsidised by the higher education provider (with student contributions)
  • accommodation charges are a consistent theme in the research and many students believe that charges are too high.

This won’t be news to many readers, who may remember the UCL students’ rent strike in 2016, which ended with a £1.5 million concession from the University.

Some students are now taking control of the housing market for themselves, by setting up housing coops. A new national body has been set-up by Cooperatives UK, which aims to grow the movement from 150 to 10,000 bed spaces in 5 years.

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The aim to to offer accommodation on average 30% cheaper than on the commercial market, which fits with the experience of current student housing coops in Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield. A press release gives a range of details about the reasons for establishing democratically-controlled student housing, but it is perhaps better to hear the students talk about their experiences, while seeing the fantastic job they have made of their accommodation in this short video:

Watching this, I felt envious. I wish there had been accommodation like this when I was at university – it looks fantastic. To find out more, the newly-launched national body, “Student Co-op Homes” can be found at https://www.uk.coop/students

Oh, and I think we can safely say we now know how the Halls of Residence at our Cooperative University are going to be run…

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“The Enemy Within”

King of the HE policy wonks, Mark Leach has written an outstanding article on the political and narrative crisis universities now find themselves in. I won’t attempt a summary for the tldr crowd – it is worth engaging with in its entirety. At the end of the article, Leach diagnoses four areas in which the HE sector needs to improve, and second among them:Snip20180309_9

To expand and deepen his analysis of the remedies required for the HE sector, Mark has co-written an accompanying article, in which he proposes an agenda for change. Key to this agenda is embracing democracy inside institutions, and looking to cooperative models of governance and operation. The key section is here:

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Five years ago I wrote a report for the Cooperative College looking at the barriers and enablers to the establishment of a cooperative university in England. At that time it seemed like a distant dream, a piece of hopeless romanticism. Nevertheless, the barriers I identified were insubstantial – practically nonexistent. And since that time, the HERA has established a climate more friendly to new or “converted” cooperative institutions, in England.

Mark is a highly respected and politically savvy commentator on HE policy. For him to be advocating experimentation with cooperation in HE is highly significant in terms of the acceptability of this idea, now.

The Cooperative University may be an idea whose time has finally come.