When students pay for their university digs they would be forgiven for thinking that the money goes towards the cost of the roof above their head, the bed they sleep in and the food that they eat.
But students at Durham University got a surprise when they recently received an email breaking down college accommodation costs for 2015-16 that showed one third of their payment will go on capital and borrowing expenditure.
The email – seen by Times Higher Education – came after the university increased the costs for college accommodation in the upcoming academic year by 8 per cent. The university blames the increase on the rising cost of gas, electricity and food, which Durham expects to go up by 12 per cent despite inflation recently falling to a 12-year low.
The memo, dated 28 November, says that living in college “represents value for money” and gives a breakdown of how each £1 students pay on accommodation is spent.
About 23p goes on operations and administration staff, 13p on utilities, 18p on repair and maintenance, 22p on capital and 11p on borrowing. Out of every £1 spent on catering, 7p also goes on capital and borrowing expenditure.
Students have launched a petition calling for the university to reconsider the price increase.
Tom Mitchell, a final-year PhD student at Durham, said that he was sceptical about whether capital and borrowing costs were the responsibility of students.
“The university is taking advantage of the lack of accommodation options available to students old and new in Durham city, forcing them to pay unreasonably high prices for the accommodation they are urged to accept in order to pay for things that are not the students’ responsibility,” he said.
Durham has increased its accommodation charges by 20 per cent over the past three years. The cost of a standard room for 38 weeks with catering in one of Durham’s colleges in the 2015-16 academic year will be £6,819, up from £6,289 in 2014-15 and £5,673 in 2012-13.
The cost of accommodation is much higher than that at nearby universities. At Newcastle University, for example, a catered room in the Castle Leazes hall of residence for the 2014-15 academic year (38 weeks) costs £4,623 and at the University of York, a 40-week let of an economy catered room in 2014-15 is £4,987.
Graham Towl, pro vice-chancellor and deputy warden at Durham, said: “Our students benefit from a college experience at halls of residence prices.”
Durham’s breakdown on accommodation comes despite the continuing reluctance across the sector for universities to show exactly how money from tuition fees is spent.