Leader: Key to the door

January 13, 2006

Long gone are the days when benevolent mill and factory owners built model villages to accommodate poor workers.

But there are echoes of that Victorian spirit of philanthropy in plans by Oxford and Cambridge universities to build homes for academics who otherwise face being priced out of the housing market. If Oxford is thinking on a scale of 200 homes, Cambridge is thinking of 1,000. But questions remain about the homes, not least the question of ownership. Will university administrators - some of whom at the lower end of the pay scale also face problems buying a home - be excluded from the arrangement? More interestingly, will these homes be of a standard that outstrips current building regulations; models of environmentally friendly and high-tech construction or standard two-up, two-down brick boxes?

But the difficulties academics face in getting a foot on the housing ladder are not confined to Oxford and Cambridge. University towns and cities tend to be property hot spots. And while the notion of providing homes for "key workers" in the public sector is de rigueur in planning offices around the country, academics are not included in the official definition of that term. A cynic might say that paying staff the salaries to match the demands of the private housing market would be one way to solve the problem. But the example that these two universities set in thinking of the wider travails of academic life is to be welcomed and, perhaps, followed by others.

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