House prices leave city dwellers out in the cold

August 27, 2004

Buying a house in Britain's major university cities is certain to remain beyond the reach of the majority of academics - particularly those living in the Southeast.

A Times Higher analysis has revealed that most university staff earn little more than a tenth of the average house price in their local area. Academics at Imperial College London face a particularly tough struggle in gaining a foothold on the property ladder.

With the average London house costing £288,862, the average salary at Imperial - of just under £30,000 - represents only 10.4 per cent of the price. Staff at St Andrews University enjoy the best prospects for property - the average salary is £33,515, or 34.5 per cent of the average Dundee house.

Manchester University's average academic salary of £33,132 represents 25.7 per cent of the city's average house price of £128,786 - less than half the average house price in the capital.

The figures come from two sources: house prices in university cities, from the Halifax Estate Agents, and average academic salaries at 20 institutions, from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Comparing the two sets gives an indication of how hard it is to secure a mortgage for a house on a single academic salary. Banks and building societies offer mortgages of up to four times the salary of prospective borrowers.

Academic staff at London institutions face particular problems. The average salary at Middlesex University is £33,952 - 11.6 per cent of the average house price, with the School of Oriental and African Studies, Royal Holloway, University College London and King's College London all between 12.2 and 13.1 per cent.

Staff at the London School of Economics are in the best position. They earn an average of £41,656 - 14.4 per cent of the house-price average.

Many of the 30,000 academics who start careers in London or who move to the capital have to rent, said Ben Monks, regional support officer for the Association of University Teachers.

But renting is also becoming increasingly expensive, with a one-bedroom flat in London costing an average £1,114 a month and a four-bedroom house Pounds 3,142, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Mr Monks said universities in London increasingly relied on their status to lure academics into what he described as a cost-of-living "honey trap".

The union has been waging a long-running battle to have London weighting increased to something close to the £5,100 given to schoolteachers.

It is presently about £2,800 in new universities and drops as low as £2,134 in some old institutions.

The situation is also serious for academics in cities such as Oxford and Cambridge, where average salaries represent 11 and 13.3 per cent of average house prices respectively.

Earlier this year, Cambridge University admitted that average house prices, which have hit £237,000, meant it would no longer be able to attract world-class staff unless it built affordable accommodation. The university has plans to construct enough housing to allow a doubling of its academic workforce, as well as other buildings, on 57 hectares of university-owned farmland in west Cambridge.

House prices in Edinburgh have more than doubled since 1999 to an average of almost £180,000. Flats in the town may be made available to young academics at the bottom of the pay scale as part of a housing development for postgraduates. The university also plans to renovate single-storey garages and tenements into affordable flats for staff and students.

chris.johnston@thes.co.uk

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