This month, 15,000 students will come together to strike over the fact that they have been required to continue paying rent for accommodation they are not using due to the restrictions created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students at up to 50 UK universities will also withhold their rent payments in order to achieve a refund for the payments they have already made. Many students have not been able to return to their halls of residence following the Christmas break due to the national lockdown.
Research carried out by the National Union of Students found that 69% of students who responded were concerned about their finances. 22% have found it difficult to make rent payments since the beginning of term. About 50% of all current students live in rented housing, either in buildings on campus that are owned by their university or in privately rented accommodation off campus.
Strike organiser Ben McGowan condemned the fact that the government and universities had prioritised profit over the wellbeing and rights of students. Around a third of students who responded to the survey believe that they will not be able to end their tenancy agreements early, despite the pandemic, and will therefore continue to be asked to pay for facilities they cannot use.
He said: “Any idea that universities and the government have any regard for student welfare is a complete and utter lie, and one they’re not doing very well at hiding at the moment.”
He went on to state that believes that the government should use their role to resolve the situation and intervene to support the universities. The University of Manchester student also dismissed the notion that offering rent rebates to students would have a significantly detrimental effect on the finances of these institutions.
He said: “The effect that rent cuts would have on their budgets is an incredibly small amount. And we know that [universities] have been exploiting students for decades and charging exorbitant rents well above the rates of pay outside because they know they have a monopoly on that first year accommodation.”
Many students are now reassessing their living options in the wake of the pandemic restrictions, with an increase of 9% of students choosing to stay at home with their parents, eschewing campus housing, since September 2020.
NUS Vice-president for higher education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, said these latest findings signalled that “students deserve better”. She also accused the government of “disregarding” the situation. She stated: “We need rent rebates immediately to ensure that students are not out of pocket for rent from properties they are not living in.”
Over the last few months, the NUS has campaigned on many issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic that are disproportionately affecting the UK’s students. They have supported calls for rent refunds and tenancy agreement exits for students unable to use their accommodation as planned.
They have also campaigned widely for “no detriment” policies. These policies ensure that students’ final grades are not disadvantaged by the restrictions of the pandemic. This week, presidents of the student unions at 22 Russell Group universities addressed the Russell Group. They asked that the group reconsider their decision not to implement these safety net measures to address the current situation.