Students up and down the country are furious with their current living conditions. Thousands of students have been trapped in their accommodation halls, with minimal help or guidance from their universities on what will happen next. Meanwhile university management, and the Tories, are continuing to blame young people and students for the rise in COVID cases.
We have been brought to university, by management and the government, under false pretenses. Why should we be paying £9,000 fees and huge rents for poor-quality online teaching and housing?
In fact, why should we be paying anything at all? This situation has only proved beyond doubt that education should be free. Universities have been run as businesses for years, focusing more on profits than the standard of education or welfare of their students. Now we are seeing the consequence of this system. In a moment of extreme crisis, students are being attacked like never before.
As universities continue to shift the blame and avoid accountability for their reckless actions, we – as students – must be firm in our response. We must fight these landlords with a rent strike.
The NUS has already stated that it will support rent strikes where it can. A successful rent strike took place in 2016 over five months in which 200 students living at UCL halls of residence withheld rents ranging from £156 to £276 a week. Altogether they received concessions worth £1.5 million. If we replicated this, on a nation-wide scale, it would push the universities, and the Tories on the backfoot.
It is within our power to do so. We must demand the compensation of all rent payments and tuition fees for all students, regardless of isolation status. Education should be free; and students should receive full maintenance grants, not be forced to pay eye-watering rents to university bosses and parasitic private landlords.
Moreover, we demand that universities work with students to institute an effective isolation and self-quarantine plan, including free meal deliveries, free and comprehensive mental health services, and a comprehensive plan for academic and social support.
To place our demands on university administrators and implement proper safety measures, student unions and activists should help to establish democratic student committees in halls of residence.
These should elect accountable and recallable representatives, and join together to form an organised network of students across the university. Where management refuses to offer rebates, then such networks should be used to coordinate rent strikes.
Importantly, with this kind of organisation in place, students would also be in a strong position to unite with UCU members and other unionised workers to fight against the marketisation that has spread throughout higher education. This would strengthen the position of both students and staff, in the joint struggle against fees, rents, cuts, and casualisation.
All students should:
- Call meetings, block -by block; hall-by-hall
- Create whatsapp groups to organise
- Elect accountable representatives for each block/hall
- Network these groups together to coordinate strike action
- Door-knock in every hall, with leaflets giving agitation, analysis and advice