Student activists across the United Kingdom are getting ready for the largest wave of university rental strikes in 4 decades thanks to the growing frustration arising from heavy-handed lockdowns, having to pay for rooms that are not being used, and the prospect of not having face-to-face lessons when universities open again.
Students Do Not Appreciate Being Treated Like Cash Cows
In December 2020, there were around 20 rent strikes on the go across the United Kingdom, and activists from Sussex and Oxford Universities were signing up hundreds of students ahead of the new term in 2021. Other institutions such as the University of London, Goldsmiths, Cambridge, and Edinburgh were also preparing for action.
Matthew Lee, who is a member of rent strike, a group that is helping to coordinate many of these campaigns, declared that students are fed up of being treated like cash cows, especially in the middle of a pandemic when campus life and teaching is so limited. He went on to say that the last time there was any type of resistance like this was forty years ago in the 1970s.
The number of students that have declared that they are not going to pay rent has tripled, and there are now about 600 who are going to strike in January. Ben McGowan, a student from Manchester University said that they are going to keep withholding their rent and they are planning to help other universities set up strikes because each student in the UK deserves to have a rent cut during unprecedented times like these. He goes onto stress that students should not be paying for accommodation when they are not there making use of it.
Students Are Getting Desperate Due to Limited Money
In Sussex, close to 200 students have decided to withhold their rent money. Ellie Concannon, who is a representative of the Sussex Renters Union, said that they got 198 students to sign up to their strike in just 24 hours. She went on to say that students are starting to get desperate because money is always tight over the festive period. She added that there is not enough support available for students that are in desperate situations and suffering from mental health issues.
UK University Students Are Turning to Part-Time Work and Paid Internships
Anyone who has been a student already knows just how tight money is and how expensive accommodation can be. In fact, many students work part-time jobs or get onto paid internships in order to pay their rent and buy necessities such as food and water. For example, they would do some babysitting, work part time in a restaurant, bar, or cafeteria. Some are even considering moving to and studying in Toronto, Canada.
However, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, this type of work is currently not an option for many students as a lot of companies have had to cut back on employee numbers, while many others have been forced to shut their business for a period of time. When it comes to jobs such as childminding, parents are no longer comfortable letting people into their homes who could be infected with Covid-19.
Therefore, the only type of work that is available is work that can be done from home such as online marketing surveyors, survey takers, and content writing for a variety of different websites. However, there are only so many of these jobs available and a lot of students after them.
Solenn, a sports book analyst from mybettingsite.uk has experienced this first-hand. Working for a sportsbook comparison site that analyses bookmakers available to UK sports betting fans, she describes how the site literally has been beseiged by student applications during the past year, as many are attracted to the idea of enjoying the benefits – such as remote working – offered by the igaming industry.
“We usually expect to receive some 20 to 30 applicants when such a position opens, but this time we saw well over 200 applicants. Unfortunately, due to the high application numbers, we ended up having to postpone replying to everyone, as sending out all those acknowledgments would have taken up too much time. When asked how she felt about this, Solenn confided that she feels sorry for those whose application went unacknowledged, because she does not like to see people going through tough times, especially through no fault of their own.
Staff Members Are Even Being Laid Off
It is not only students that are being affected by the current pandemic situation. In Cambridge, over 400 students have declared that they will take part in a rent strike to show support for the number of non-academic staff that have been redundant over the last year. Laura Hone, a member of Rent Strike Cambridge, says that colleges have so much money that they almost certainly have the means to make some rent cuts and make sure that staff members do not lose their jobs. However, they have shown time and time again that they value profit ahead of staff and student welfare. Hone wanted to stress that these strikes were not just done to cause more disruption during a pandemic. She believes that the UK’s education system should do their best for their staff and students, but it seems that the only way that anything is going to be done is if people stand up and revolt.
Universities Lying to Students
Larissa Kennedy, the President of the National Union of Students, said that students have been told to move into halls because there would be classes. However, the universities knew this was probably not going to be the case and that online lessons would take place, but they are heavily dependent on tuition fees and rent money. In essence, students had been lied to for monetary gains. Rightfully so, many were angry about this deception. Kennedy declares that universities are now just massive landlords that collect millions in rent every year.
Research has found that the average student rental accommodation price made up 73% of a student’s loan in 2018, which was an increase of 15% from 2012. In the last academic years, Universities across the United Kingdom have made £1.9 billion from residential operations.
Some Universities Have Listened to the Protests
These protests by the students have definitely not been in vain though as some universities have listed. For example, Bristol University declared that it would give their students a rent rebate of 30% for seven weeks as a result of the staggered return at the start of this year. To add to this. any student who has had health issues because of the situation could be released from their contract without a penalty fee being applied.
A spokesperson from Manchester said that while they will not be able to offer reductions, students can come out of their accommodation contract for free. Meanwhile, staff from University of Sussex said that they are putting in a lot of effort during the pandemic to make sure that it was possible for students to live on the campus.