Comment: Is unaffordable student housing a fact of life?

Camden students are fighting back against student rent rises but can they win in the long term?

Camden students are fighting back against student rent rises but can they win in the long term? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Student housing shouldn’t be subject to market forces if we want education to be meritocratic.

Camden is full of students. With the University of London based in the borough, as well as Westminster Kingsway, it has the highest per capita student population in the country. But I wonder how long that will be the case.

Things have changed significantly even since I was an undergraduate a decade ago, and even more so for those studying in London.

I had a job in my second year, pulling pints in the local indie club on a conveniently flexible basis that was not at all detrimental to my social life – oh yeah, and my studies. In fact, I got that job primarily so I could get into gigs for free, rather than out of any pressing financial need. Few of my contemporaries worked in any meaningful way either, regardless of their background.

Nowadays close to 60 per cent of students have to work so they can afford basic costs, rather than the clothes and holidays I happily frittered my earnings on.

When you consider that the average London student rent is £226 per week that’s not surprising. That figure is hardly shocking in the context of the wider London rental and property market either, although the fact that student accommodation is now part of that context at all will surely have damaging long term effects.

The London property market has reached such levels that almost everything that happens in the city is framed in financial terms, especially in such a high value area as Camden.

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The head of UCL Estates, Andrew Grainger was taped telling students “some people just simply cannot afford to study in London – and that is just a fact of life.”

When less well off students are prohibited from studying at prestigious universities because they can’t afford to live near them we should realise we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. Do we really believe that if you’re born in Hull you should be destined to die there?

The students are fighting back, however. From the rent strikes that began at UCL earlier this year, to the student panel that last week refused to nominate a winner for the ‘Student Experience’ category at the inaugural Student Accommodation Awards because there was no affordable offering, students are taking matters into their own hands.

Whether they can fight the London property market and win remains to be seen.