According to recent studies, 60 per cent of university students live below the poverty line and one in every eight regularly goes without food. Yet despite this epidemic of student poverty, Sydney University Village (SUV, or more recently, $UV) has ruthlessly decided to raise the minimum rent to $256.80.
Over the course of the last two years, SUV has increased the rent by 22.4 per cent. In the same period, the inflation rate was less than 6 per cent. This comes on top of fees for facilities, such as charging to use whiteboards, empty rooms to study in and even having to pay extra to for access to houses outside of office hours.
Sydney University contracts out the running of SUV to the private multinational company Campus Living Villages. On their website, CLV says “we offer everything you need to make the most of your university experience”. Obviously their version of the “university experience” doesn’t involve most students being able to feed themselves. Housing NSW defines “affordable housing” as costing 25 per cent or 30 per cent of the tenants income, while the SUV minimum rent rate is higher than the whole of a students weekly Centrelink income.
While the situation facing SUV students is particularly stark, unaffordable and inaccessible housing has become a part and parcel of the ‘university experience’. The housing crisis is particularly stark in Sydney, which ranks as having the second most unaffordable housing market in the English-speaking world.
Who is responsible?
Campus Living Villages is maintaining its profit margins through squeezing more and more rent from students, and it must be held to account. Students are right to demand an end to rent increases.
But the blame for the housing crisis facing Sydney Uni students must also be laid squarely at the feet of Sydney University Management and the Gillard government.
Management decided to lease out the running of SUV to a private company, knowing their main concern is the profit-margins of developers and property owners. They did so simply because it is the cheaper option—heaven forbid the university spend its $117 million 2011 surplus on subsidising housing in the face of student poverty and rising rent!
Privately provided housing is just the one example of the way the university is run like a business. Departments deemed unviable are facing cuts and staff not meeting an arbitrarily set research criteria have been made redundant.
Sydney University’s administration constantly puts students, their education, and their quality of life second to the bottom line. The rules, however, are very different for management. As impoverished students struggle to pay the rent at SUV, the Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence is managing to provide affordable housing for himself. A free mansion is incorporated into his almost $1 million annual salary.
The corporate takeover on campus is the symptom of decades of government neglect of tertiary education, just like the housing crisis facing students reflects government policies that have undermined the accessibility of affordable housing.
The Labor government has done nothing to reverse Howard’s education cuts and at present provides only around 50 per cent of the total cost of tertiary education. The rest is shifted onto students through HECS or overcharging international students, squeezed out of overworked staff or raised through selling off chunks of the university to for-profit companies.
The Labor government has done nothing to address the housing crisis in Australia’s major cities—a legacy of the price deregulation of the housing market and a decrease in the provision of public housing. The cost of housing is the major factor in the rising household debt to disposable income ratio, which has risen from less than 40 per cent in the 1970s to more than 150 per cent today.
Michael Spence arrogantly announced 340 job cuts at the end of 2011, but got a rude shock come come the first semester of 2012. Thousands of students and staff mobilised to stop the cuts in their tracks with mass rallies and occupations plaguing management the entire semester. In the end only 45 staff were cut, putting it beyond all doubt that people like Gillard and Spence can only get away with shafting students if we let them.
The situation at SUV is no different—rent increases can be stopped through mass student action. This fight will also put us in good stead to demand that the University’s Abercrombie Street development currently under construction is university run and actually affordable.
Adam Adelpour and Danny Hardimann