Student activists are set to stage the largest wave of university rent strikes in the UK in 40 years.
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It comes amid growing frustration at harsh lockdown practises, the prospect of paying for empty rooms and the lack of face-to-face teaching when students return in the new year.
At least 20 rent strikes currently underway or being organised on campuses, while other institutions such as Goldsmiths, University of London, and Edinburgh and Cambridge universities are preparing to take action.
Last month, Manchester University cut rent in its halls by 30% for this term following a successful mass strike. First-year students, who organised the campaign, are now set to join other universities to force rent cuts for the rest of the academic year.
A Manchester University spokesperson said: “The university will be unable to provide further reductions, but students can decide to break their accommodation contract without financial penalty.”
Ben McGowan, one of the Manchester organisers, told The Guardian: “We are going to keep withholding our rent. And we are helping other universities set up their own strikes because every student in the country deserves a rent cut.”
The Manchester movement picked up steam after students tore down controversial fencing which was erected around their campus on the first day of England’s new lockdown last month.
The number of students pledging to withhold rent has tripled, with almost 600 ready to strike in January.
Elsewhere, nearly 200 students have pledged to withhold their rent in Sussex, while more than 400 students have promised to join a rent strike in Cambridge amid anger at redundancies in some colleges.
“The colleges are so rich they absolutely have the means to make rent cuts and ensure staff are not laid off,” Laura Hone from Rent Strike Cambridge told The Guardian. “Yet they continually put profit ahead of the welfare of students and staff. They are run like businesses – that has become particularly stark in the context of the pandemic.”
Hone added: “The education system should prioritise the welfare of students and staff, but universities are not going to come to this conclusion on their own. Students have to make them listen and rent is the most powerful leverage we have.”
The largest rent strike in the country is taking place at Bristol University, where more than 1,400 students have been demanding rent cuts, as well as more support and no-penalty contract releases.
The strike is planned to continue next term and more than 200 students have signed up to take part in recent weeks.
The Guardian reports that Bristol University said it would be offering students a 30% rent rebate for seven weeks to reflect the staggered return in 2021. They have also said they will offer penalty-free contract releases for students whose health has been impacted.
The new report from The Guardian shows that, of 105 universities polled across the UK, 28 institutions have issued fines since term began in September.
Students at University of Nottingham have been fined most strictly, with 91 students fined a total of £58,865, with 1,898 students in total paying the £170,915 in fines. Single fines issued at Nottingham were up to £1,500.
Nottingham also said it disciplined 672 students for rule breaches, with Leeds Beckett warning 403, Oxford Brookes 340 and more.