The past few months have seen hundreds of students at University College London defy management by organising a collective rent strike in protest against sky-high accommodation costs.
Last month, on Thursday 17th March, UCL Cut the Rent led a demonstration and march as part of the rent strike movement. The demo was an overall success, with residents of the Max Rayne UCL halls uniting with students from other halls of residence in order to protest against eye-watering student rents. Protesting students, joined by representatives from various media outlets, marched on a route around the main UCL campus, concluding in the burning of a figurine of UCL vice-provost Rex Knight in the middle of Euston Road. Electric, volatile energy was in the air as ‘CUT THE RENT!’ was chanted in the bitter winds. Hundreds of people attended the march, which lasted over an hour.
UCLU Marxist Society supports the students of Max Rayne house in this hard time, living in poor, ill-equipped conditions whilst paying amongst the highest student rents in the country. The march was an uplifting experience as the students’ right to protest was respected, and because so many people turned out to show their support for the UCL students’ cut the rent campaign.
With more than 500 students now signed up to withhold rent for the final term, the UCL Cut the Rent campaign is making an emphatic impact. Thanks to the efforts of campaigners, UCL has already agreed to freeze rents on a large chunk of next year’s accommodation, but the publication of documents revealing the increased surplus it will generate from its halls of residence this year shows that the freeze is nowhere near enough.
Although UCL has tried to silence the student journalist who obtained the financial documents, backing from the National Union of Journalists and widespread coverage of the strike in the mainstream media are putting the institution under pressure to rescind its threats of expulsion for the journalist and concede to the demands of the rent strike campaign.
In various meetings with the rent strike organisers, upper management at UCL have plainly stated that they do not take students from poorer backgrounds into account when setting accommodation rates, and that it is an inevitable fact that the least privileged cannot come and study here. The strike organisers have branded this nothing short of ‘social cleansing’.
UCL management further insists that any profit taken from accommodation fees is purely for the sake of reinvestment. Why, then, are there still rodent infestations, heating issues and generally meagre living conditions across all halls of residence? 500 strikers could be just the beginning: the campaign is growing exponentially, and soon there could be thousands of students fighting for an education that enriches them – not one that leaves them bankrupt.
Ultimately, the outrageous exploitation of students by their universities is rooted in the capitalist system and the commodification of housing and education that comes with it. Rather than being a centre of learning, UCL is in fact a very successful business – one which charges £9,000 per year for tuition and £542 per month for accommodation. Out of the surplus gained from these extortionate charges, UCL can afford to invest in lucrative areas such as weapons research and pay its provost an unbelievable salary of £360,000 a year. Meanwhile, students make do with cuts to course modules and rodent infested accommodation.
It is unacceptable that UCL even attempts to link student rents to the ever-swelling market value of their halls. Students should be entitled to cheap and even free accommodation where necessary. Elected student representatives should be able to set rents in consultation with an accountable management on the basis of cost, not on market rent.
This profiteering must end! But so long as landlords can use the housing crises in order to continuously push up rents, universities will cynically do the same. For this reason, the struggle of UCL students goes hand in hand with the struggle of tenants - social and private - against evictions and rent rises.
Likewise, the marketisation of education, in which tuition fees play a major part, has created UCL’s monstrous ‘business plan’; therefore, any fight against sky-high rents in student accommodation must be linked with a generalised struggle against fees, and the market based system which created them: capitalism.
The chief demand of Cut the Rent is a 40% decrease in accommodation fees, which has won hundreds of new recruits. The Marxist Student Federation supports this demand in full and has taken part in spreading the strike to other campuses and halls.
The next step must be to spread the strike, not only numerically but politically. The UCL Rent Strike could provide the starting point for a tremendous movement of workers and youth against the capitalist exploitation of housing.
- Victory to the rent strike!
- Students should not be paying for a crisis they didn’t create!
- Accommodation should be provided on the basis of need, not for profit!
- Education is a right, not a privilege!
- For a socialist programme for housing and education!