On 23 November, students at Cambridge University were the latest group to declare they will refuse to pay their rent for their university accommodation until certain demands are met.
Cambridge rent strikers join groups at Manchester (who are also occupying a university building) and at Bristol currently not paying rent; other student groups have either pledged to strike in January or are planning to strike if demands are not met (York, Edinburgh, Goldsmiths).
Cambridge are demanding: a 30% rent reduction; all students allowed to study remotely should they wish to; no Covid-19 job losses; no disciplinary action for rent strikers.
Rent reductions vary: Manchester have demanded a 40% reduction in rent, Edinburgh a 50% reduction. Other demands from rent strike groups include an improved quality of online learning platforms, more academic, social and mental health support, and better access to outdoor spaces. So far no university (with the partial exception of Glasgow) has responded positively to the demands. At Bristol management threatened and then withdrew the threat to take unpaid rent out of the bursaries of some students.
These groups, other student campaign groups, some student union officers and representatives of the National Union of Students are discussing national co-ordination in a build up to what we hope will be a national rent strike at the start of next term.
The co-ordination should also look to make links with Higher Education workers fighting job, other cuts and worsening conditions. Cleaners at SOAS are the latest to open a dispute (over understaffing) with a university management.
Some of the most drastic cuts are proposed at University of East London. 367 jobs are threatened including academics, technical and professional services workers. The management claim they are saving the university. The workers and post-grad students leading a campaign against the cuts at the university say managers are destroying its long-term viability as a functioning and credible academic institution. Years of mismanagement have led to the £31 million deficit, and, further, Covid-19 has become a cover for cuts.
Here as elsewhere there is a recognition that the government financial support that is available for higher education (for example, through the furlough scheme), has been deliberately not been taken up.