Transfers of student digs spark fear of higher rents

May 18, 2001

Sheffield University has shortlisted two bidders for its novel scheme to outsource the management of all its residential properties. The two bids in the running are from Unite Group and Jarvis plc, writes Cherry Canovan.

The university will review the bids over the summer and make a decision before the end of the year. A successful bidder could take over the running of all halls of residence next year.

Sheffield expects to raise tens of millions of pounds through the deal but stressed that it would not mean big rent hikes.

Not everyone welcomes the scheme. The Joint Union Consultative Committee said in a statement: "We are very concerned at the fact that although the university has given an undertaking about staff receiving sympathetic treatment, there has not been a clear no-redundancy message from all the parties concerned."

Andrzej Nowakowski, president of the students' union, said: "This whole project is a huge gamble. The security, welfare and finances of our students are at stake. The union cannot see how a private company can make a huge up front payment and invest heavily in infrastructure without either increasing rents considerably or making efficiency savings, which threaten jobs."

Students held a carnival last week to protest against the plans. The National Union of Students resolved to campaign against the growing trend of the privatisation of university accommodation at its conference in March.

Dervish Mertcan, president of City University students' union, said his university too was considering a scheme to sell halls of residence and lease them back.

"We are objecting to the university entering any agreement that is effectively privatisation of halls," he said. "We have seen the problems that occur when a university is not solely responsible for an area of service provision for students."

A spokeswoman for City said: "We have got a big estate strategy that we are looking at. Everything is being reviewed."

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