This July, the ‘Cut the Rent’ campaign at University College London (UCL) announced that students had secured major concessions from management for university accommodation rents. This follows a five month long rent strike in which 200 students living at UCL halls of residence withheld rents ranging from £156 to £276 a week.
Students have won a £600,000 pledge for accommodation bursaries for the 2017/2018 academic year, with a further pledge for the same amount the year after. This is on top of the £350,000 in accommodation bursaries for 2016/2017 that had already been won earlier this year. UCL has also agreed to freeze rents for the cheapest rooms in their halls, representing a total of 1,224 rooms (or £258,000 in rent) for the 2017/2018 academic year. Altogether this adds up to concessions worth £1.5 million.
This rent strike started after rents at UCL halls had increased by 48.4% between 2009 and 2016. These extortionate increases gave the UCL administration a gross profit of £15.6 million. If this doesn't sufficiently illustrate the administration's attitude towards its students, then the taped words of UCL director of estates, Andrew Grainger, made things crystal clear: “We do not set out rents on the basis of the least well-off students…Some people just simply cannot afford to study in London and that is just a fact of life.”
This situation is not restricted to UCL, however. Last year students at Goldsmiths University in London won a 35% cut in rents after a rent strike.
With maintenance grants being scrapped, EMA abolished and tuition fees rising, students are being put under more and more financial pressure. This is an act of class warfare that will result in higher education becoming a privilege only the wealthy have access to. Education is a right and must be made free for all. Such rights - of a decent education and affordable accommodation for all - can only be safeguarded under a socialist society, where the welfare of student and staff is the aim, rather than profits for the few.
The victories of the rent strikes are a step forward in this direction, giving confidence to students and workers to take further action. And further mass action will be needed to win the demands that we deserve.