Rent strikers at University College London have won a landmark victory, securing a concession of more than £1 million by the university following complaints of sky-high prices and poor conditions.
Following five months of non-payment by more than 1,000 protestors from the UCL Cut The Rent (UCL-CTR) campaign, the university have offered £350,000 of accommodation bursaries in the upcoming academic year, as well as £500,000 in bursaries for 2017/18.
Further rent cuts and freezes of more than 1,200 rooms bring the total package to over £1 million, and UCL promised to waive late payment charges on all unpaid rent settled up by the 24th of June.
The strike began in January with the aim of achieving rent cuts of 40 per cent. Originally the protesters numbered around 150 but this shot up to 1,000 in April. UCL-CTR encouraged and assisted other universities to engage in the strike, as well as carrying out an occupation of university property and disruption of the university’s open day. It was revealed that the median rent had risen by 56 per cent in only seven years.
In March striking students hit back at their treatment by the university, reporting being patronised and receiving threats of eviction. At points throughout the drawn-out campaign UCL has been accused of engaging in “social cleansing”.
In December the university paid a total of £300,000 in compensation to residents of Hawkridge House, which was described as “rat infested” and a “construction site”.
This escalation of the dispute has led to what the campaign describe as the “first step” in achieving more equal and fair rent-setting policy at the university. “UCLCTR will continue to campaign for this outcome by any means necessary, including fresh waves of rent strikes during the 2016/17 academic year if students deem them required”, says their official statement.
Campaigners see the concession as vindication for the months of pressure they have placed on university management. “This victory marks a shift in power back toward the student. In recent years, students have been forced into protest to defend their status—the rent strike has proven how students can proactively organise and mobilise to get their voice heard and to hold previously unaccountable university management to account”, said Pearl Ahrens, one of the UCL-CTR campaigners.
“UCL’s offer is not the serious commitment to improving accessibility to education that is required at the institution, but it is a vindication of our tactics,” said Iida Käyhkö, another campaigner. “Universities are ignoring their social responsibility and exploiting students with extremely high rents—if they don’t listen now, they can expect to see an increasing number of students on rent strike in the coming years. Direct radical action is the future for student housing campaigns.”
UCL Vice-Provost Rex Knight said: “We welcome this outcome, which has come about as a result of positive negotiations between UCL, UCLU and UCL-CTR campaign. From the outset we have appreciated that affordability is a big issue for our students, and a challenge for a university based in the heart of central London. The new bursaries we have announced will make a significant difference to all students in greatest need, and will help ensure that UCL remains an institution open to all.”
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