Over 500 students have pledged to join the indefinite rent strike declared last month by 150 students at University College London (UCL), reflecting campus-wide concerns over soaring accommodation costs and students’ dissatisfaction with management’s response. Organised by UCL, Cut the Rent with support from the Radical Housing Network, the extension of the strike increases the amount of rent withheld to over £1,000,000, a figure set to rise as students continue to sign up to the strike.
The response of UCL management has been patronise and threaten students. Andrew Grainger, UCL Director of Estates, has stated to rent-striking students that ‘We don’t set our rents on the basis of the least well-off students’ and that ‘some people just simply cannot afford to live in London’. Additionally, UCL Management have stated they will pursue evictions against students and, in recent emails, have stated they intend to withdraw licences to occupy hall residences from strikers.
When UCL runs its accommodation with a 45% profit margin – over £15,779,000 – yet shows flagrant disregard for socially accessible education whilst seeking to criminalise access to a home for its own students, this can only accurately described as a social cleansing of the University.
Since 2009 UCL has increased the median rent by 56%. These are tuition fees by stealth, which in a context of stagnant student incomes and scrapping of maintenance grants, further undermines access to education for low-income students.
Rent is everyone’s problem: a recent study by Shelter found 53% of private tenants struggle to pay rent; in London 72% of tenants’ total income is spent on rent alone. Whilst this dispute may be in the university, the exploitation of tenants by landlords is causing immeasurable suffering to millions.
The behaviour of UCL management is a direct result of the marketisation of education and the cuts to university funding that are inevitable under capitalism. If we want to win and preserve decent standards of living for students then it must be students, in conjunction with staff, who make the decisions about rent, fees and the running of the university. Unelected bureaucratic managers are unfit and ill-placed to impose rent increases and education reform on us. Universities should not be profit-oriented institutions – they are a social good and should be preserved as such as part of a socialist society.