Rent Strike‽

Students across the country, in Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow, to name a few, are participating in rent strikes to protest their continuing payment of rent and tuition fees during the pandemic. Students are learning in a virtual reality of online discussion boards, lecture recordings and seminars on Zoom. These new formats could’ve been accessed at […]

Eve Brennan
13th November 2020
Students across the country, in Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow, to name a few, are participating in rent strikes to protest their continuing payment of rent and tuition fees during the pandemic. Students are learning in a virtual reality of online discussion boards, lecture recordings and seminars on Zoom. These new formats could’ve been accessed at home – so why were the government and universities so willing to risk student’s lives by encouraging them to move back to term time accommodations?

According to rent-strike.org, an online forum promoting students to protest their exploitative letting agents and managers of university halls, students refusing to pay rent is a way in which they can take back control of what has been stolen from them. So-called 'rip-off letting agencies' and 'unsympathetic universities' caring more for income over the wellbeing of students. By withholding rent payments, students demand their voices to be heard by greedy landlords where they would otherwise be ignored. 

First-year students have been encouraged to move into university-owned accommodations, despite all teaching being online.

First-year students have been encouraged to move into university-owned accommodations, despite all teaching being online. They're restricted to socialising within households of 6-8 strangers. These are the same students who were failed by the government’s algorithm that gave them unfair A-level grades. Now, the government has failed them again by enticing them to fund universities via rent, despite the risks posed to their mental health as well as the possible exposure to Covid-19. 

There is also some talk of universities encouraging students to stay in their term time accommodation throughout the second lockdown to discourage them from dropping out before December, at which point tuition fees from the government are secured. 

Some campus lockdowns are even being policed by private security. The University of Manchester’s Fallowfields halls of residence was bordered with fencing that cost £11k to erect, treating its’ inhabitants as criminals rather than paying students. This happened to follow the death of two students, one suspected from suicide due to inadequate mental health support offered by the University. Consequently, the students took down part of the fence, protesting the University’s poor communication and lack of concern for student wellbeing. 

Students in Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool have been participating in rent strikes and have organised groups under ‘Students Before Profit’ to campaign for more Covid-19 testing, proper investment in remote teaching, a release from accommodation contracts, and for the government to bail out universities if they suffer financially. 

Student protests and rent strikes have recently achieved some success, particularly in London, Plymouth and Bristol. Since the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted traditional modes of raising awareness like door-knocking and distributing leaflets, students have been mobilising online via Facebook groups and petitions on Google Forms. 

For example, a Facebook group gained 400 members from the four universities in Plymouth and has since created a manifesto, a website, and has gained press coverage in the local newspaper. The group has achieved some success in cancelling the universities’ third-term rent payment, but are still fighting for this to be applicable for private accommodations. 

The government’s and universities’ lack of care for students’ mental and physical health has undeniably taken a backseat when it comes to their income and profit, especially during this recession. But what these cases of student mobilisation show is that rent strikes have served to raise awareness of this, and demand better treatment and support, of which some cases have been successful.

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