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We won the rent strike - but we're not done yet

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Five months ago, 100 UCL students stopped paying their rent in protest against the university’s unfair profits and unacceptable hall conditions. Now, we have received an offer of £850,000 from UCL, and our power is only growing.

Our strike forced the university to offer students £350,000 to fund accommodation bursaries in 2016/17 academic year, with a further £500,000 for 2017/18.

They have also reduced the cost of 1,224 rooms for the next academic year, totalling £1m in concessions. These are huge numbers, as it is forcing them to meet their promise to ensure access to education for those from all backgrounds, rather than earlier statements admitting they “don’t consider low-income students when setting rents.” By pushing them to these concessions, we have exposed their elitism and exploitation of students.

Campaigners march down Gower Street on 18th June

It’s been a long battle to get to this point. As someone who was one of the initial 100 strikers, I’ve seen the campaign grow from a hopeful spark to a raging, nationwide fire.

UCL did not come to these concessions easily – they made it difficult, or sometimes outright refused, to negotiate. They showed themselves to be bullies by trying to silence a student journalist, telephone strikers and threatening them, refusing international students the guarantor scheme, and trying to fine us £25,000.

Students were trying to fight all this whilst also earning a degree.

But that didn’t stop the campaign – if anything, it angered students, inspiring more action, and from more people.

They thought they would subdue us, but instead they poured petrol on our fire. The numbers increased exponentially to that the point that the people in the campaign itself hadn’t realised quite how many had joined our cause. By the end of the strike we had over 1,000 students withholding rent.

However, the obvious anger and upset of over 1,000 people clearly wasn’t enough to persuade UCL that something should be done, and they still tried to threaten their way out of it.

So, in the weeks preceding the aforementioned agreement, the campaign escalated.

Occupations of the accommodation management offices showed them we weren’t going anywhere, and demonstrations in and around campus spread the passion through the current and prospective student body.

It was the organisation of a manifestation that really marked the turning point. We arranged for a manifestation on campus on UCL’s open day, which would have spelled disaster for their precious reputation.

It scared them so much that this was the point that they gave us our first major offer, in agreement that we moved the action off campus. Our large, loud, and passionate parade marched down the streets of London instead, joined by London-wide housing campaigns.

So we have won large amounts of money and eased the burden of future students.

But that doesn’t mean we’re finished. The bursaries still are not enough to rescue all students from the extortionate prices of UCL’s rent. As a scheme, it means that only applicable lower-income students will benefit, and everyone else will still be feeding into UCL’s unreasonable profit margin. Sadly, the nature in in which they have made the “cut” may have come too late, as one boy has already rejected his UCL offer for fear of being able to pay the rent prices. We can only hope that this has been prevented from now on.

There have also been no promises of improving the conditions in the halls (collapsing ceilings and cockroaches, to name just a couple) which were a key motivator for many of the strikers. There is clearly a lot of work to be done.

The campaign is going to escalate.

There are already parallel campaigns at Goldsmiths, Bristol, and many more contacting us for advice on how to start action. UCL students will be starting over with the campaign next year, but from an even stronger standpoint.

The movement has support from various housing groups such as the Radical Housing Network, as well as Shelly Asquith, NUS vice-president. The government and universities have tried to load us with tuition fee debt and exploit us with rent costs but we aren’t taking it anymore and students are stronger than ever. Nationwide students are saying “no more!” to the pressures on us.

This is just the beginning.

The full statement from UCL, Cut the Rent can be read here




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