At the start of 2021 rent strikes are planned at up to 40 universities.
Thousands of students will withhold rent as it falls due throughout January; the campaigns are demanding 30% or 40% rent rebates and many other demands. Unions and the Labour Party and other students not involved in the strikes should back the action. It can spearhead a push to reverse the disastrous course managers and government pursued in higher education last year.
The government is shifting; but it is too little and too late. Rent strikes have come as the Tories have issued last minute advice to UK universities and UK and international students, stipulating that students should not travel to term-time addresses until at earliest 25 January — unless their course involved practice or lab based education, or if they need to live independently.
That date for return to campus is unrealistically early. Some universities have recognised that — for example University College London (UCL) has said students should not return until the end of February! — but not others.
A return to face-to-face teaching makes no sense as infection rates continue to rise. Students should not be asked to travel. As the University and College Union (UCU) has argued, courses must, by default, go online until Easter, if only because clear plan now will provide a consistent educational approach and stability for both students and teaching staff. The government had previously planned to use lateral flow tests to open up campuses. That plan must now be completely scrapped.
The biggest fault of government and university managements, locked in to universities-as-business ideology, has been the failure to provide crucial financial support for students — to allow the ending of accommodation contracts and offering rent rebates as compensation for what will be many weeks when student cannot live in term-time accommodation.
The head-in-the-sand approach is causing misery to students and danger to wider communities. It has to end. The quickest way to ensure it ends is to build the biggest possible campaign of solidarity with the rent strikers.
• Rent strikes are planned at: Manchester; Bristol; Warwick; Sussex; UCL; QMUL; London halls; Oxford; Cambridge; Manchester Met; LSE; Plymouth; Edinburgh; Portsmouth; Goldsmiths; UAL; Dundee; York; Liverpool; Brighton; University of East Anglia; KCL; Sheffield; Sheffield Hallam; Nottingham; Newcastle; Lancaster; LSE; Brunel; Kingston.