Why I'm striking against unfair university profits
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The rent strike campaign had humble beginnings for me, as I originally heard about it whilst nervously clutching a towel around myself (I had just got out of the shower when a canvasser knocked on my door). He explained to me that they were judging interest in a rent strike in protest against the condition and price of halls. I signed up immediately, thinking that giving them my email address could hardly do any harm. The above is quite the contrast to when, a few months later, I found myself (fully-clothed) marching down the streets of London shouting about corrupt university authorities. I was in the first group of people that withheld their rent in second term, along with the majority of my flatmates. That over one hundred people signed up from the beginning is a testament to how strongly many people felt. We initially joined as a protest against the condition of our halls; broken coat hooks, stained carpets, missing toilet seats, ineffective ovens, useless heating, broken ventilator fans, leaking fridges, and of course, the infamous cockroach problem (“Where are you living?” “Max Rayne.” “Oh, seen a cockroach yet?” is a conversation I’ve had more times than I can count). We were aware of the political implications of the strike, but as freshers still reeling from the initial disappointment of our arrival, the directly personal reasons took precedent. However, as I’ve attended more demonstrations and meetings, the wider political implications have taken a priority. The main objection is that 60% of accommodation fees goes towards maintenance of halls – but that means 40% is pure profit. I understand the university needs a profit margin in order to reinvest and improve the halls, but 40% from each student is too high a burden that shouldn’t be the students’ liability. Also, it is clear that this “reinvestment” is going towards vanity projects such as the Stratford campus; the conditions of my halls are testament to the lack of a direct payback. Unless you count installing bird houses and large plant pots as significant improvements… UCL continually denies these profits, but it is not difficult to believe they exist given the cost of halls have gone up 56% in the last five years, high above inflation. UCL are hiding behind the “London is expensive!” excuse; but UCL is supposed to be an institute of education, not a profit-making landlord. They have made it too expensive to study in London for some – The Tab recently ran an article on a boy who had dreamed of studying at UCL, but had been forced to choose another university because he couldn’t afford halls prices. Even Andrew Grainger, UCL director of estates, admitted “some people just simply cannot afford to study in London and that is just a fact of life.” It stinks of an elitism that leaves people feeling even more bitter about the profit margin. But the rent strike’s political impact reaches further than just UCL; parallel campaigns have started in other London universities – Goldsmiths, Roehampton and the Courtauld Institute – as well as further afield in Bristol and Oxford. The campaign is making a statement against something that has concerned me for years – the culture of student living.
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