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Student rent strikers triumph against London university

UCL, Cut the Rent has managed to negotiate thousands in savings for students renting in London, but they say it’s only the beginning

After over 1,000 students demonstrated against UCL over renting costs, the protestors have “declared victory”.

The five-month long rent strike has forced the London university to relent to demands, as officials have conceded over £1 million to student tenants. A £350,000 bursary fund for low-income students will be made available for the next academic year, with £500,000 for the next year, 2017/2018. Additionally, a series of rent cuts and rent freezes will bring the total to over £1 million.

In a statement, the UCL, Cut the Rent collective said that similar student housing campaigns will hopefully spread across the country, as “this is just the beginning”. Representatives described the agreement as “an important, but ultimately inadequate first step”.

Iida Käyhkö, a student and campaigner explained to Dazed: “This is a big win for the campaign, even though we didn't get exactly what we wanted – yet. In the space of a year, the campaign has grown from a handful of people to a thousand students on strike, and forced UCL to not just pay up, but to sit down with us and seriously discuss their social responsibility as an institution. We've made them acknowledge their problems with accessibility, and they have taken the first, tiny step to correct the situation.

“We're really proud of all the strikers and organisers, who have brought the connection between the housing crisis and the marketisation of higher education to the forefront of student activism. This strike was basically a trial run – and if this is what rent strikes look like when we're just getting started, universities should be very, very scared.”

Käyhkö related that “further action” would soon take place to map out the specifics of the bursary sceheme, which at present, is an “emergency measure” to correct UCL’s “exclusionary” rent setting policies.

“Most importantly, we're planning a bigger, better rent strike this coming academic year, and helping out in setting up other student housing campaigns across the UK. Now that we've proven that rent strikes work, we're going to be able to mobilise like never before,” she added. 

Back in April, members of the movement reported how they were planning to take a stand against the housing situation, which ultimately makes education in the capital completely inaccessible to huge numbers of young people. At the time of the Dazed report, over 500 students at the Bloomsbury university campus were striking – withholding over £1,000,000 until they received a 40 per cent rent cut. The head of Estates, Andrew Grainger, apparently dismissed the extortionate rents – which can cost anywhere up to £209.79 a week – as a “fact of life”. Goldsmiths University students also joined the campaign for their New Cross campus halls, which were branded “unlivable” despite extortionate costs of £154 a week.

Many agree that the high cost of living is totally at odds with the catastrophic student grant cuts and loans that have tripled in the last few years. The UK’s university system has become the most expensive in the world.

In another statement, Shelly Asquith, NUS Vice-President for welfare said: “The inspiring UCL, Cut the Rent campaign has made incredible gains, cutting rent and establishing a new bursary system, and I have been very proud to have supported the campaign. Universities across the country should take note of this, and be ready for more students to take similar actions in light of increasing rents and profiteering in student accommodation. Rent hikes will lead to more rent strikes, and now we know that rent strikes win.”

You can support the Cut the Rent movement on Facebook here