London’s world-class universities are one of our city’s most precious assets – but is the housing crisis undermining the excellent work they do to help people realise their full potential?
From all parts of the UK, the brightest and most talented young people aspire to come to London – to study medicine at King’s, master languages at UCL and study sculpture at St. Martin’s.
And of course, it’s not just from the UK they come:
In 2011/12, London welcomed around 67,000 international students, adding more than £5.9 billion to London’s economy that year.
Londoners are rightly proud of the diversity this adds to our city.
But students are not exempt from the wider housing crisis affecting Londoners.
In fact, last week the London Assembly Housing Committee published the findings of an investigation into student accommodation, which showed that the housing crisis is having an impact on students and those who aspire to come here.
When the Housing Committee visited student halls at UCL back in September, I was struck by the anecdotes from many students about the narrowing background from which their fellow students come.
What also became clear from listening to their stories was the impact rising rents are having on their finances – with some students spending more than their entire loan on accommodation.
The statistics are concerning:
Average student rents in London were £157.48 per week in 2012-13 – a rise of 26 per cent from £125.34 in 2009-10. Student incomes only rose by 11% in that time.
Even the average rent is a considerable sum for students on tight budgets. But a visit to private halls left me seriously concerned that the market is catering more for affluent students than those on low or moderate incomes.
Speculative developers are currently supplying thousands more expensive studio flats compared to universities. The University of London Housing Services told us that this gives ‘a completely distorted image of what student housing is meant to be’.
Because of this, the London Assembly Housing Committee wrote to the Mayor, urging him to do more to help students:
- Transport for London should review the level of its student discount as the number of students in outer London rises
- The Mayor should work with boroughs to identify new sites for development of student accommodation, particularly where it could regenerate town centres or redevelop public land
- The Mayor should examine the case for encouraging inner London boroughs to require that new student accommodation contribute towards the delivery of affordable housing for the general population
- The Mayor should encourage the development of a greater diversity of rooms, focusing more on rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens compared to en-suite rooms and studio flats
- The Mayor should encourage greater transparency at universities such as through allowing students a say in the rent setting process
London’s universities are national assets that help young people right across the United Kingdom and all over the world, achieve their full potential.
It is crucial that we preserve the social mix of those universities if they are to retain their world-class status. It would be a tragedy in so many ways if only the children of the wealthy could afford to come and live and study in our great city.