Student rent strike challenges universities’ exploitation
Students across Sheffield’s two universities are withholding their rent payments in a growing national row about how universities are exploiting students to protect their finances.
Part of a campaign to challenge the funding model of higher education which puts a premium on maximising income over teaching and research, students in Sheffield have already forced a partial climbdown.
The University of Sheffield abandoned rent charges to students for empty accommodation from the beginning of January to late February but students are campaigning for a lot more than a six week amnesty.
Campaigners say “students today are facing many crises. A mental health crisis, a crisis of capitalism - resulting in the creation of the first generation poorer than their parents, a crisis of debt, a crisis in housing to name but a few.”
The national rent strike campaign sees the rent strike as the tip of the iceberg: “Without a full-blown movement for a free and democratic education these campaigns act at most as a bulwark to the full marketisation of universities.
“Universities running as businesses mean that students are seen as numbers, staff are put on more precarious contracts and pay, and money is diverted to expensive PR, advertising and management salaries - the aim of which is to make the university look good, rather than actually be good.”
This quote from a Sheffield student sums up the hardship students are facing: “A lot of us left our university cities in the December travel gap, being promised a staggered return across January. Now we’re being told not to come back until mid- February.
That’s two and a half months of paying for a room we’re not living in.
Students are not made of money, most of us can’t depend on the support of our parents financially and ALL of us should have the ability to cancel our rent contracts and move home for our mental and financial benefit.
The Rent Strike is an opportunity for students to rightfully keep their money whilst also rebelling against the universities that continue to compete for our finances for their own gain.”
A petition has already gathered hundreds of signatures across the city and an immediate demand of a minimum 30 per cent reduction in rents charged over the year has been lodged.
The Covid crisis is exposing the naked underbelly of the neoliberal project with universities just one of many “institutions” formerly set up for the public good now adopting practices usually seen in the seediest elements of the private sector.
So far the Labour Party has called on the Government to address “this injustice” but fell short of supporting the rent strike simply calling for Government intervention to find a solution without any view as to what that might be.