Wadham Student Union will next week hold a referendum on a proposal to implement an opt-in subsidy to reduce the college fees for low-income students.
The referendum proposes a Self-Selection Options (SSO) method of allocating a rent subsidy. This would give students the choice to anonymously opt-in to receive a subsidy on rent, and it will not be means tested.
If students vote in favour of the initiative, Wadham students will be given the choice between two rent options when signing contracts for college rooms. Students will have the option to check a box requesting a lower rent rate which will be accompanied by broad guidelines regarding the intent of the subsidy.
The scheme would pay for itself, with the higher default rent option being slightly above the average room rate and the lower rate slightly below.
Wadham students currently pay a flat rate for their rooms. The internal subsidy is to act as an alternative to changing this system to one organised into bands. It also aims to help relieve the financial burden for self-selecting low income students.
Those behind the initiative are predicting roughly 30 per cent of Wadham students opting in for the subsidy. If this prediction is correct, it would result in a decrease of £120 per student on the lower option and an increase of £50 per student on the default option.
The scheme will operate on a sliding scale depending on how many people choose to opt in for the subsidy. If a higher percentage of students choose to opt in, the subsidy will be reduced. This prevents the rent for those choosing the default option to increase by more than the specified maximum amount of £50.
Ellery Shentall, Wadham Student Union Vice-President told Cherwell: “It has been ensured that the differences between room prices will never be so large as to make differences so overt that they become divisive, but will nonetheless remain significant for those who opt in.”
A motion was passed to hold a student-wide referendum rather than just pass the initiative through a regular meeting. The reasoning behind this, as stated in the motion, is that “the SSO is a controversial measure that has material impacts and warrants being taken to referendum”. Implementation requires the support of 50 per cent of those who vote.
Lucas Bertholdi-Saad, Wadham Student Union President, proposed the subsidy and referendum. Speaking to Cherwell about the initiative, Bertholdi-Saad said: “I think it is a great experiment… Wadham has a really great feeling of student community and solidarity and I hope this is a way for Wadham students to come together and provide support to those who feel they need it.”
This move comes a week after OUSU mandated the creation of a Student Union ‘Class Act’ Campaign, which has set up a committee “open to all OUSU’s student members who self-identify as working class, low income, state comprehensive school educated, or a first-generation student”.
One of the co-chairs of the recently announced committee, Ellery Shentall, is a student at Wadham. Speaking to Cherwell on the SSO initiative, Shentall said: “I think it is a positive move to allow for differentials in the amounts people pay for rooms, not in relation to a college-dictated room ‘quality’, nor in relation to problematic and often arbitrary means-tested measures of a students’ ability to pay, but rather in relation to the perception a student has of their own circumstances.”
Both Bertholdi-Saad and Shentall are aware of the possible problems of the subsidy not being means tested, however have chosen not to dwell upon the potential for abuse. Speaking to Cherwell, Shentall said: “This system is imperfect, and potentially open to people accepting a subsidy who are far from needing one. However, the expectation is that this won’t be a widespread problem.”
If Wadham students vote in favour of the change in the referendum scheduled for Wednesday, the Self-Selection Options initiative is likely to be implemented in the next academic year.