Dear Alexander, Julia, Jura, Blake, Elizabeth and Viktor,

At the outset, may we thank you for your letter, which was passed onto us by the Finance Committee. We would like to respond to the concerns you raise, firstly by outlining the national funding context for students and higher education, and then secondly in relation to the steps we are taking here at the University of Bath.

We are grateful to you for setting out your concerns so clearly. Indeed, we share your concerns about the cost of living and the pressures that rising inflation continue to have on our students and staff alike.

In respect of the student maintenance loan, we agree that there is a case to award a more significant uplift now, as the recent increase of 2.8% does not make up for the real terms cut to maintenance that students have experienced since inflation began to rapidly increase. The student maintenance package in England is at its lowest value in seven years, and in addition the parental earnings threshold has been frozen since 2008.

Also, although we welcome the recent increase in Government funding for student hardship, we believe that there is a need now urgently to review how well current national funding is supporting students and what changes need to be made.

For these reasons, we have written to make representations on these matters to the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, and to our local MP, Wera Hobhouse. We have also written to the Chief Executive of Universities UK, who is already actively advocating for change.

We would like to thank SU Officers for acknowledging the very significant inflationary pressures on the University at this time. Since the start of Covid-19, we have tried to navigate a prudent course through the pandemic and now aim to do the same through this period of high inflation, protecting and prioritising our investments in the overall student experience wherever possible. We must acknowledge, however, the fact that our energy bills have increased enormously, despite measures to reduce energy consumption in recent years, and costs are increasing across our supply chains, which mean that our operational costs are high. We are proud to be a voluntary Living Wage employer, accredited by the Living Wage Foundation, which of course entails higher costs, but importantly supports many of the staff who deliver our front-line accommodation, hospitality and student-facing services so effectively and with such care. The overall impact is that utility costs for accommodation are increasing by 51.4% to more than £4m and our operational expenditure in consumables and equipment is increasing by 10.5% to almost £2.8m.

Accommodation finances are ring fenced at our University to enable maintenance, refurbishment and to fund new accommodation; it is not a profit-making enterprise for the University’s general expenditure and indeed will run a deficit this year. We would have preferred not to have to increase rents in University-managed accommodation in 2023/24, the financial situation has forced this and have done our best to constrain the rise to be below the UK inflation rate.

We have additionally committed to providing additional support to our students and we are therefore taking several steps to minimise the impact and maintain affordable accommodation:

Firstly, we will continue to increase our bursary budget. As you will be aware this year we awarded 773 accommodation bursaries to our first-year intake at a cost of £463,750 (up from to 146 bursaries in 2021/22). This meant that 24.7% of our home students in University accommodation were awarded such a bursary. In the next academic year, we have increased our provision to £800,000 for accommodation bursaries.

Secondly, we recognise that we need to provide wider support, not least as around two-thirds of our students live in privately-managed accommodation and we know that the private sector is also increasing rental costs; an area where universities do not have control and one which will have an impact on continuing students. Bath, like many cities, also has a severe shortage of affordable accommodation that affects longstanding residents and students alike. This is why, although we believe the student maintenance package in England needs to be addressed at national level, we will continue to consider wider ways in which we can support students through the Cost of Living working group. As you will know, on this group’s advice, the University has taken a number of steps to support our students at this time, as outlined in our Cost of Living webpages:

  • we have made provision to double the funds available via our Hardship Fund this academic year. This fund gives non-repayable grants and we also have interest-free short-term loans available. We have also made changes to simplify the process for our doctoral students
  • we provide a Student Money Advice service, which offers practical advice via drop-in sessions and appointments on managing money, funding and sourcing additional income
  • in relation to our doctoral students, in September last year, the University agreed to match the increased UKRI studentship stipend rates for 2022/23, to a rate of £17,668 for full-time students who are fully funded by the University. This is an investment of over £1 million by the University to provide support and we continue to monitor the situation closely
  • we have taken practical steps to support students with essentials, from introducing low-cost food and drink options at every catering outlet on campus, including hot meals for £1.50, to giving free laundry credit to students in University accommodation, price-matching essential products in the supermarket on campus and providing warm study spaces on campus and in town. We have also provided free gym classes and a programme of free events.

We will continue to keep such measures under review and provide enhancements where possible.

In conclusion, thank you for raising this important matter. Looking ahead, we are very willing to discuss future accommodation plans with you at one of our next in person meetings, and to continue to engage on the issue of rents specifically, and cost of living pressures more broadly.

With kind regards,

Professor Cassie Wilson Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience)

On behalf of the University Executive