Undergraduates threaten strike over rent rise


Undergraduates at are set to stage a rent strike over a proposed hike in charges.

World-famous King's College, Cambridge, is being accused of planning a rent rise of more than 60 per cent over six years.

Disgruntled students fear the move will make the college even more elitist amd put off less well-off applicants who cannot afford the rents.

The proposal has prompted the resignation of the college's Junior Common Room president Mat Coakley who is now calling on fellow undergraduates to stage a rent strike in protest.

Ths strike is being seen as the biggest protest of its kind in the college's centuries old history, with 240 of the 380 undergraduates pledging to withhold their rent.

A petition raised against the rent increases was signed by more than 2,500 undergraduates from other Cambridge colleges within 48 hours, and a demonstration is being co-ordinated for Saturday (October 23).

'We are worried that for a university that has severe difficulty in attracting state school pupils, if you make it one of the most expensive in the country, it will make it more elitist,' said Mr Coakley, a third year social and political science undergraduate.

'It will be going back to the dark days when Cambridge was a finishing school for public school boys. That is our concern.'

College bursars, who regulate the day to day running of the 35 colleges, propose to put up rents by an average of a third by 2004/5, making it the most expensive university outside London, said Mr Coakley.

Students around the country on average pay 45 a week in rent - but the figure could be as high as 75 at King's, he claims.

Each college sets its own level of rent, on a room by room basis depending on the facilities.

Cambridge University Students' Union has agreed to back the strike at King's - and may press for a university-wide stoppage.

Students who strike when college bills go out next week will be asked either to write a cheque out to the college but not hand it over - or pay the sum into a strike fund.

The strikers are also demanding the college publish open accounts to justify its plans.

The student protests were decided at an emergency meeting called on Monday to set up an executive committee to co-ordinate action.

Undergradautes at King's currently pay between around 40 a week for the cheapest rooms to around 56 a week for the most expensive.

King's bursar Ian Barter denied that the rents are set to increase by 60 per cent.

'Broadly speaking we reckon in King's that the rent is low compared to other colleges in Cambridge and Cambridge is at the low end in the country,' he said.

'This year rents have gone up by 8.3 per cent in real terms. Our rents are the lowest in Cambridge by a long way and will be after the rise.

'The college council expects rents to increase over the next three years but it is reconsidered annually in the light of what's happening with students, the college and the country.

'I'd be very disappointed indeed if they did strike because in King's there is a great desire to understand students' position.

'I spent a lot of time this summer discussing things with the students. We have a very good relationship with them. This is something I certainly wasn't expecting. It has come out of the blue,' added Mr Barter.

The thorny issue is to be raised by Cambridge University Students' Union President Tristan Jones with the University Vice Chancellor at the next University Council meeting.

'This is the most important issue we are ever likely to face regarding equal access to Cambridge,' he said yesterday (Tuesday).

Students fear that the University is trying to off-set losses in funding by the rent hike which they estimate will cost each undergraduate 200 extra per term - bringing it in an extra 10 million each year.