At Manchester University a total of 171 students have pledged to withhold £307,000 in rent. At Bristol 850 students have pledged to strike. Students at many other places are discussing taking such action after being signed up to move into halls of residence and pay rent and then finding almost no teaching other than online.
There are many issues besides lack of support over Covid. At Manchester student accommodation is unsafe, in poor repair, and pest-infected.
At Homerton College, Cambridge, students threatened a rent strike and called it off when their college management agreed to investment in mental health services, increased social and study space, and (following Glasgow University) rent rebates if large numbers of students are forced to self-isolate.
Abbie, a first-year learning disability nursing and social work student and Labour Society Member at Sheffield Hallam University, spoke to Solidarity. On Friday 16 October she helped organise a staff-student protest outside uni halls of residence as part of a national day of action called by the UCU Solidarity Movement.
Many students are quite frustrated about the situation; people didn’t expect to be accessing an online course. Normally, online courses, like the ones offered by the Open University, are properly resourced. But teaching staff have not had the time and support to switch to remote learning, and have had to spend extra (unpaid) time to adapt materials.
On Covid, I’ve heard reports about students being informed several days late about the need to self-isolate, being told they have to stay indoors, yet at the same time, they have struggled to get essentials and had to rely on mates or family for food drops.
University management should be more open with students about what is going to happen. I would like to see regular updates, rather than sporadic emails that just appear to be responding to crises as they crop up.
At Hallam we don’t yet know if and when there is going to be a move to online teaching only. I understand the need for face-to-face for courses like my own. I work as a healthcare assistant, so I am trained to do clinical observations, but that’s not the same for people that have come from school or college. Some face-to-face needs to be maintained so that people going into placement are confident and competent in the skills.
Given the increase in cases, the insistence on face-to-face teaching on courses that don’t have a practical element, e.g. business studies isn’t really justified. [Both the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam are in the top ten for numbers of reported cases]
I think it’s important for students to feel that they have a voice in this mess. We plan to hold regular protests and to run social media campaigns that encourage students to come forward with their stories. Just the fact that there are students visibly doing something can be a boost and will hopefully encourage others to get involved.
We think students should be organised to run rent strike campaigns.
We have regular meetings that are open to all students that want to get active.
Our demands are: • Better support for student and staff well-being • Regular updates from universities • End tuition fees for this year • Regular testing for staff and students and prompt access to results • No staff redundancies • Rent pause.