Students to Face Even Higher Interest Rate Charges After RPI Increase

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will face even higher interest rate charges on student loans following an increase in the Retail Prices Index.

Interest on student loans for those starting or continuing at university this autumn will be charged at 6.3%, reflective of RPI at 3.3%, plus a 3% uplift. This compares to the current rate of 6.1%.

The rate at which interest is charged has become a contentious issue and ministers say the role of interest rates will be considered in their recently announced review into education and funding.

Although the level at which interest is charged could increase the total amount of debt paid back, it will not increase an individual's monthly repayments, which are determined by the amount of income earned after leaving university.

However, this latest increase comes on the back of a significant rise in September 2017 when rates rose from 4.6% to 6.1%.

While the National Union of Students has recognised the rise is small, they argued it adds psychologically to the burden of debt for young people.

Commenting on the increase, NUS vice-president Amatey Doku said: "Interest rates at 6.3% represent an increase of 0.2 (percentage points), which, although a seemingly small degree, adds to the huge psychological burden that debt has on many students and graduates."

"Absurdly high interest rates are only a small part of student debt problem - which already leaves students from disadvantaged backgrounds with up to £50,000 of debt, most of which is never paid off."

"The current funding model continues to represent a poor deal for students, their families, and the taxpayer."

Loughborough University Nominated for Five National Awards

Posted by Richard Ward in

Loughborough University has been placed on the shortlist for five Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards.

Known at the THELMAs, the awards celebrate the higher education sector's leadership, management, financial and business skills, and showcase extraordinary innovation, teamwork and commercial acumen.

The first nomination in Outstanding Leadership and Management, recognises the work of the senior leadership team and their strong and collaborative approach to deliver the ambitious Building Excellence Strategy.

The shortlisting in the Outstanding Marketing/Communications Team category acknowledges the dedication of Marketing and Advancement, including the successful campaigns such as the prospective student Good Luck Cards and the stem cell register recruitment-drive Spit Happens.

The nomination for Workplace of the Year highlights the University's efforts to place people at its heart, with investing in staff as a core objective.

Elsewhere, Loughborough's Student Services has been shortlisted in the Outstanding Student Services Team category for its work to combat sexual violence and increase understanding of consent.

Lastly, the University has been nominated for the Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year category for its Exercise Guidelines for Adults with Spinal Cord Injury project, which produced international spinal cord specific exercise guidelines.

Commenting on the nominations, Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Allison said: "I am delighted that Loughborough University has been shortlisted for no less than five THELMAs. This reflects the extraordinary hard work and outstanding commitment of my colleagues across both Loughborough campuses. Most importantly, the nominations acknowledge the way in which different parts of the University work loosely together to realise our high level of ambition."

Cardiff Development Promised to Be More Affordable

Posted by Richard Ward in

Developers aiming to build more student accommodation in Cardiff have promised its offering will be more affordable.

JM Properties Management are seeking permission to demolish buildings at the junction of North Road and Mindy Road and replace them with studios and flats in a building up to six storeys tall.

In total 137 beds will be built if councillors give the application the green light, along with a ground floor shop, four parking spaces and 72 cycle spaces.

Documents submitted as part of the application process said the development will be "high-quality" but not "top-end" and therefore the accommodation will be more suitable for students who would traditionally occupy existing housing stock in the area.

The report added: "There are approximately 36,000 full time students in Cardiff universities (including within University of South Wales campuses based in Cardiff)."

"Taking into account privately-owned and university-owned student accommodation and the 'pipeline' of unimplemented planning permissions, there are still approximately 14,000 students in existing housing stock, with the majority within the wards of Cathays, Plasnewydd and Roath."

"This development will reduce the pressure on the existing housing stock within Cathays, Plasnewydd and Roath, potentially returning it to the open market for family homes".

A number of objections have been submitted in relation to the plans. In particular, councillors say the building would be overbearing and out of character, while others suggest there are already issues with parking and anti-social behaviour in the area.

Stagecoach Makes Way for Student Development

Posted by Richard Ward in

The Stagecoach bus company has closed its Liverpool Road depot in Chester, which has been earmarked for student accommodation.

The company has now moved its operations to the unoccupied Waverton Railway Station site.

Last year Liverpool Road Chester Limited, a subsidiary of Watkin Jones, was granted approval by Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee to build a 323-bed student development on the Stagecoach bus depot.

Planning officials granted the application approval despite concerns about its size and design.

Meanwhile, Ward member Richard Beacham told the planning committee at the time: "I'm speaking today as the local councillor for Newton and also someone who shares the concerns of other Chester residents who worry that speculative developers are fighting for a share of an already saturated market in student housing in our city."

"My biggest concern is that developers are using vital land that would be better used to tackle the serious problem of a lack of suitable housing for families and young people looking to take the first step away from the family home."

Upon completion of the scheme, the company's management arm Fresh Student Living, which already operates schemes at Abbeygate, Tramways and the The Towpath, will manage the site.

University Receives Funding for Renewables Research

Posted by Richard Ward in

The University of Aberdeen has been granted £148,500 to bring early career researches to Aberdeen to conduct research into renewable energy storage and conversion.

The award, from the Universities UK International (UUKi) Rutherford Fund Strategic Partner Grants programme, is funded by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The funds will be used to bring four early career researchers from Curtin University in Australia and IMP and CIVESTAV-INP from Mexico to Aberdeen for nine months each.

The programme will see researchers work on projects within the area of renewable energy storage and conversion.

The aim is for the Rutherford programme to help the University of Aberdeen to build on global strategic partnerships and deepen existing links between the university and its partner institutions in Australia and Mexico.

Commenting on the funding, Dr Angel Cuesta, from the university's Department of Chemistry, said: "Not only will this initiative strengthen our international connections and open up the possibility of future research collaborations, it will also enhance existing inter-disciplinary work here at the University between our departments of engineering and chemistry."

"Renewable energy storage and conversion is a vitally important area of research in terms of cutting global CO2 emissions, and the work that these four talented early career researchers will be engaged in will help advance our collective knowledge of the potential for new techniques that can help achieve this goal."

University Staff Call Off Strike Action

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

University staff have called off strikes that would have hampered summer exams, after agreeing to fresh pension plans.

Proposed changes to staff pensions resulted in 14 days of strikes at 64 universities in February and March, with more strikes due to take place.

University employers withdrew plans which the University and College Union (UCU) said would have resulted in members being £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

Both sides have now agreed to create a joint expert panel to re-evaluate the pension scheme, with UCU members backing the deal by two to one.

The dispute started after Universities UK (UUK) said it would remove the guaranteed defined benefit pension for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Employers cited a large pension deficit as reason for the change, but the figure has been disputed by academics.

As part of this latest agreement, employers have now said they won't return to the original proposals.

A spokesman for the UUK said: "The decision by UCU members to support the creation of a Joint Expert Panel means that strike action is immediately suspended."

"This gives students important reassurance that they won't be affected by further disruption during their summer study and exam period."

"Reviewing the methodology and assumptions in the current valuation will build confidence and trust and increase transparency in the valuation process."

"It will provide an opportunity to consider the questions raised about the valuation by scheme members and employers."

Dundee Student Flats Set to Become a Hotel

Posted by Richard Ward in

Plans to redevelop the site of a former Dundee furnishing company into student accommodation have been amended, resulting in two new hotels being built.

Councillors have approved plans for the £20m development, which will see the B-listed Wilson House in Barrack Street demolished.

Work on the site, which has been unoccupied since 2011, is expected to start in July with building work being completed by October next year.

Developer SHG had originally intended to use the site as student accommodation but agreed to alter its plans following representations from the local community council and the public.

Commenting on the development, SHG chief executive Craig Inglis, said: "Our amended plan aims to retain as much of the character and charm of the building as possible but to put it back into use so that it can contribute to the economic vibrancy of the city."

"Everyone respects this fine building but no-one wants to see it lie dormant any longer."

"Our proposal will give it back its dignity and help it to continue its part in the city's growth."

Planning Permission Extended for Bangor Student Accommodation

Posted by Richard Ward in

Planning permission has been extended for the development of a 36-bed block of student accommodation in Bangor.

Situated at the former Victoria Building Land, at Plas Llwyd Terrace, Watkin Jones received approval for the scheme in 2013. Although buildings on the site were demolished several years ago, the site still lays vacant. However, Watkin Jones have now received an extension to the originally approved plans, with permission now due to expire in 2023.

The site is located within 100m of bangor High Street and the City Centre and sits in an elevated position at the top end of Plas Llwyd Terrance, which contains a Gwynedd Council owned and managed public car park.

Bangor City Council objected to the development on the grounds the city is already suffering with an over population of student accommodation and too many properties of this type were currently unoccupied.

Unite Students Announces Latest Valuation Update

Posted by Richard Ward in

Unite Group has released its latest valuation update for the Unite UK Student Accommodation Fund (USAF) and the London Student Accommodation Joint Venture (LSAV).

As of 31 March 2018, the USAF property portfolio was independently valued at £2,284 million, representing like-for-like growth of 0.7% during the quarter. The portfolio now consists of 25,218 beds in 71 properties split across 23 University towns and cities in the UK.

Meanwhile, the LSAV portfolio was valued at £1,175 million, reflecting a like-for-like increase of 1.4% in the quarter. The LSAV portfolio comprises of 8,477 beds in 13 properties across London and the Aston Student Village in Birmingham.

The valuation increases have been driven by rental growth and an average two basis points of yield compression in both portfolios. The overall USAF portfolio has a blended yield of 5.4%, while LSAV's portfolio is 4.7%.

Commenting on the results, Joe Lister, Unite Students Chief Financial Officers, said: "Unite Students has delivered another strong performance in the first quarter of 2018. Reservations for the 2018/19 academic year remain ahead of last year's run rate and support a positive rental growth outlook. Our reputation is underpinned by long-term, meaningful partnerships with leading Universities, allowing us to capitalise on our market-leading position in a sector that continues to demonstrate structural growth."

University of Portsmouth to Close Student Accommodation

Posted by Richard Ward in

Bosses at the University of Portsmouth are consulting with staff over plans to shut down a 600-bed student accommodation campus.

The student flats at Langstone, off Locksway Road, are due to close this year. The sports pitches located on the campus will remain in use by the institution, but a spokeswoman said of the accommodation: "The student accommodation at Langstone campus will be closing in summer 2018. The increased availability of more popular student accommodation in the city centre near to the university campus means that the university provision in Langstone is no longer viable."

The university previously announced a voluntary severance scheme after it asked departments to find savings of five to seven percent.

The university said it was facing 'competitive student recruitment' and was working in partnership with UCU and Unison to develop a voluntary severance scheme which could be offered to all staff.