At the start of this week (26 October) around 1,300 students at Bristol University withheld their rent for uni accommodation, amounting to around £2 million. This is the biggest student rent strike for many years.
Bristol students, who pay up to £8,000 a year, were promised the “full university experience” only to be locked down for weeks without adequate support.
The Bristol strike is more advanced than others that are being planned around the UK. Strikers are demanding the right to end accommodation contracts early and a 30% rebate if they chose to stay.
At Durham University 7.5% of students have been infected (the worst rate in the UK). As face-to-face teaching is very limited, most has come from students mixing in college accommodation. A lot of the colleges had to be put in lockdown, and the university was completely unprepared for that. The university had to draft in staff to feed students (inadequately).
The rate of infection is now falling but, as elsewhere, infections will probably go up again later unless new measures, including the right for students to go home and get out of rent contracts, are put in place.
Other forms of local action by staff and students are now taking place.
Northumbria students have launched an online petition demanding “the right to move”, joining staff campaigning for online teaching.
Socially distanced protests were held last week at Birmingham Uni (calling for tuition fee rebates as well as demands on rent) and also in Sheffield.
Action is building around the cuts that many unis face. Students at Roehampton University have sent up a campaign to “save Arts and Humanities”, which have been threatened with £3.2 million cuts ( @RoeSSAH).
These local campaigns need to be pulled together in a much stronger national co-ordination by both the higher education unions and the National Union of Students. The UCU’s [University and College Union] national petition campaign is good on demands — immediate online learning, the right for students to give up accommodation, funding for mental health support and secure long-term finance for HE — but it is just a petition campaign.
Minimally UCU, other unions and NUS should be building high profile days of action before Christmas and aiming to win these demands so next term is not more of the same chaos and misery.
• More on the Bristol rent strike here.