“We’re not going to be cash cows”: British students are planning the biggest rent strike in 40 years | Universities
Student activists prepare for the biggest wave of university rent strikes in four decades, amid mounting frustration over persistent hall lockdowns, the prospect of paying for empty space, and little face-to-face teaching when they return sometime in the new year.
At least 20 rental strikes are currently underway or being organized on campus, with activists at Oxford and Sussex universities enrolling hundreds of students ahead of the new semester this week. Other institutions that are also preparing measures are Goldsmiths, the University of London, and the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge.
Matthew Lee of Rent Strike, a grassroots group that coordinates many of the campaigns, said students were tired of being treated like money cows for universities, especially amid a pandemic when personal tuition and life on campus were so limited. “This is the biggest wave of student tenant militancy in over 40 years,” said Lee. “The last time there was resistance on this scale was in the mid-1970s.”
Activists across the country are hoping to emulate a successful mass strike at Manchester University that led it last month to reduce the rent in his halls for this semester by 30%. However, the freshmen who organized the campaign are determined to join other universities to force rent cuts for the remainder of the academic year.
The number of students who have promised to withhold rent has tripled, with nearly 600 on strike in January.
“We will continue to withhold our rent,” said Ben McGowan, one of the organizers in Manchester who has not yet had real face-to-face classes. “And we’re helping other universities set up their own strikes because every student in the country deserves a rent cut.”
Movement in the city has grown for hundreds of hall dwellers Fences torn down built to prevent them from moving freely around campus for the past month to stop the virus from spreading.
McGowan said students expect rent cuts to be made by the state staggered return, where students return to non-practical courses over a five-week period. “Students shouldn’t pay for halls when they’re not there,” he said.
Almost 200 students have committed to withhold their rent in Sussex. “We got 198 names in 24 hours,” said Ellie Concannon of the Sussex Renters Union. “The students are desperate because money is getting very tight over the Christmas period.”
Concannon added that there wasn’t enough support for new students who were struggling to make friends at largely disused universities or help them find scarce part-time jobs. “There are a lot of students in dire situations … but there is no availability for mental health services for months,” she said.
In Cambridge, more than 400 students have promised to join a rent strike Anger at layoffs in some colleges. “The colleges are so rich that they absolutely have the resources to make rent cuts and make sure the staff are not laid off,” said Laura Hone of Rent Strike Cambridge. “Nevertheless, they keep putting profits in front of the well-being of students and employees. They are run like companies – that has become particularly strong in the context of the pandemic. “
Hone stressed that strikes across the country were about more than disruption during the pandemic. “The education system should put the well-being of students and staff first, but universities will not come to this conclusion on their own. Students have to listen to them, and rent is the most powerful lever we have. “
The country’s largest rent strike is taking place at Bristol University, where more than 1,400 students are calling for rent cuts, more support and penalties. They plan to continue next semester and have enrolled 200 more students in the past few weeks.
“The national rent strike movement is really picking up speed,” said Saranya Thambirajah, one of the first year strikers in the university halls. “We will continue to fight for a 30% cut for the entire academic year.”
National Union of Students President Larissa Kennedy said students have been encouraged to move into halls because universities are heavily reliant on rents and tuition fees. “The students were essentially lied to,” she said. “They were told the campus was safe and there would be face-to-face classes, but within days of their arrival many found that the class was fully online – or everything but two hours of face-to-face classes was online. Understandably, students feel trapped on campus for universities to collect rent and fees. “
Kennedy said the growing dissatisfaction was a “very clear rejection” of the post-2012 higher education funding model, which requires universities to raise more student revenue to offset reduced central government funding. “Universities have become mega-landlords who collect millions of pounds in rent every year,” she said. “Much of the inadequate maintenance support that most students receive goes straight to these institutional landlords.”
Research by the NIS found that the average student dormitory rent was 73% of student loans in 2018, up from 58% in 2012. Universities generated £ 1.9 billion in housing operations in the last academic year, including dormitory rents.
Bristol University said it would offer students a 30% discount on rent for seven weeks to reflect the staggered return in 2021, along with penalty-free contract cancellations for students whose health has been compromised.
A spokesman for Manchester University said: “The university will not be able to offer any further discounts, but students can choose to terminate their housing contract without a financial penalty.”
The University of Sussex said staff worked tirelessly to ensure campus life was possible during the pandemic. Cambridge University said the majority of its students appreciate the quality education it provided.