Birmingham beats the boss in protest against hall fees

Roisin Brady

Students at Birmingham University have taken a stand against the rising cost of campus accommodation.In reaction to the £6,000 price tag for housing, outraged students protested on 26 January. More than 100 students walked through the campus to the Chancellor’s Square, armed with banners and signs. Despite the University banning the use of megaphones, the protesters chanted “accommodation for the masses, not just the upper classes” to the tune of Yellow Submarine.  A petition signed by 2,000 students opposing the costly fees was presented to University representatives.

Campaigners took to blogs and social network sites to garner support, with Birmingham University student blogger Kal 101 writing: “Through charging these amounts the university is covertly trying to filter out the poor, and attract the rich. Education should NOT rest on income. It should rest on academic ability. Universities should not be running as private businesses, but as producers of research. Yes, in this society in which we live universities require income in order to fund research, but surely extracting it from the pockets of the already poor students is not the way to go about it.”

The demonstration lasted for 45 minutes, as the University is private property and marchers were only granted a limited time on campus. The rally was organised by James Ogden, Vice President of Housing and Community, who voiced his concerns for the students who could fall into a financial loophole. He said: “At the current rate, any student just over the threshold for a means-tested maintenance loan and who receive no bursaries will struggle to find money to pay for their accommodation costs. The facilities offered in halls of residence by the University of Birmingham are commendable but similar to many institutions.”

The fees for student housing at Birmingham University are more expensive than any other educational institute in the West Midlands, costing up to £6,000 a year as a base rate. This falls outside the range of student loans, and is almost double what students at Napier University pay to live in halls.

The expensive fees were also criticised by local MP Steve McCabe, who joined the students in their quest for affordable accommodation. In a letter to the Vice Chancellor Prof. Michael Sterling, he said: “Providing high quality accommodation in Halls of Residence is commendable but it is important that this accommodation is affordable for the whole student population and that there is maximum consultation with the students to ensure what’s on offer is meeting their needs”.

However, Lesley Stewart, General Manager of Student Accommodation, defended the incurring costs. “When comparing the level of fees charged by other providers it is important to consider the various services and facilities that are included in the residence fees at the University of Birmingham, including utilities, 24 hour security service, two bars and a convenience shop.

“We provide a range of accommodation at differing fee levels ranging from standard budget rooms to self-contained studio apartments, because we recognise that we attract students from diverse backgrounds whose needs and budgets all differ depending on their personal circumstances. From our statistical information which we analyse year on year, there is still a high demand for University accommodation and there is no evidence that either the standard or the price of our accommodation is deterring students from coming to Birmingham to study”.

She also insisted this year’s increase in accommodation fees was previously agreed to by the Guild of Students.





1 Comment

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