Research Like a Real Smug Journo
Research provides the material basis of your campaign: all the stats, figures and whatnot that make you look serious and like you know what you’re doing. Good, snappy figures do wonders in press releases, interviews, and in people’s minds. And it doesn’t take an expert journalist find some good ones!
You have several options when it comes to research:
For national figures, you can search through Google and find articles that talk about rents and housing (and rent strikes), official reports from housing charities, student groups like ours (we have a website!); you can even trawl through the NUS website. Best to type in keywords to facilitate your research.
For local/campus figures you can have a look through your university’s/ local council’s websites, sometimes they release figures that can be useful.
If you can’t find anything there, a Freedom of Information Request to the University and/ or council (for private accommodation) is always your best bet. It doesn’t take much to make a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request. There’s a website that helps you do it very easily: whatdotheyknow.com. Just get to it, search for the institution you want to send the request to, and write it up. The website takes care of the rest. Here’s an example of FOI requests that were sent to the University of Bath: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/student_housing_costs / https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/department_of_accommodation_and#incoming-985628 . You can literally copy/paste them if it fits your research questions!
What should you research?
Obviously, rent prices for all university-provided accommodation. Try and get prices from 10 years back up to now, and projected prices for the next five years too. It’s also good to ask for it according to hall and type of room.
You can ask for the surplus money that they make through renting, but they might not give you an answer. To calculate their profit, you can alternatively ask for both prices and the management costs of providing student accommodation for all student accommodation provided by the University since ten years from now. That way you can calculate net revenues minus net costs (net profit differentiates from gross profits that include costs).
You can also ask for the planned expansions of university accommodation buildings over the next five years. That way you know what they’ve got in store for the years to come.
If you suffer from terrible living conditions, you can ask for planned refurbishments for the next five years.
To your local council you can ask for the authorised construction plans for private accommodation providers, and the general cost of private renting since 10 years ago up to now.
You can ask for loads and loads of other things, like minutes from the meetings where rent rises were authorised, or the number of complaints regarding accommodation your uni has received from students. They might not answer you but it’s worth a try.
Some pro tips with regards to FOIs:
Better to ask for numerical data to be provided in a spreadsheet. It’s easier to read.
FOI requests always take a bit more than a month to be replied to, so make sure you do this several months before the beginning of the year!
If you find something interesting (like very high profits), you can immediately send this info to a journalist or write a press release yourself then send it. Newspapers love this kind of juicy stuff.
FOI requests aren’t replied to if they include too many questions, or questions that take too much time to answer. Break your requests down if need be.
You might want to add in an advise and assist clause. This means they have to help you refine your request rather than bounce it back to you. If not, you can just make it hyper-specific which should work.