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A group representing students at Lancaster University have announced that they are to undertake a rent strike, outlining their demands for rent reduction, a rent waiver for students unable to access accommodation, the improvement of student services and a guarantee for no repercussions against participating rent strikers.
In an open letter published by the group, they accuse Lancaster University of “luring students to campus with the false promise that in-person teaching would be a feature of student life”, further arguing that they feel that the provision of support services by the university has been inadequate, citing the earlier incidence of charging students £17.95 for food boxes during the period of lockdown last year. Reaching out to them via social media, a representative of the Lancaster Uni Rent Strike group stated that their campaign “is run independently by Lancaster students; we are connected with other campus groups and several of our organisers gained experience in the successful ACORN-led strike last April, but we believe that running things independently is in the best interest of students.”
“We initiated our campaign with the tentative primary goal of gauging student interest in possible action for the summer term, but thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve gotten, it’s clear there is demand for action right now and so we’ve decided to focus on the Lent term rent payments this week. The main reason we are advocating for a strike is that although the University had a clear precedent of action to base its approach off, given the events of the last academic year, it has nevertheless failed to act in the interests of students.”
“At the time of writing we have over 500 students willing to withhold rent, a number considerably higher than those committed to successful rent strikes at other universities. At this stage we believe it’s in the best interests of the University to concede to our demands.”
SCAN approached Lancaster University for comment, and received the following statement:
“While the situation is still fluid and we are subject to changing Government restrictions, the University has remained focussed on delivering what it promised – high quality education and supporting our students. We have focussed on those in hardship and encourage any student in that situation – as a result of the pandemic or otherwise – to apply for hardship support.
“Staff and students at Lancaster have responded to the challenges of the pandemic with extraordinary determination, enabling us to keep our campus and accommodation open throughout – including Christmas which saw hundreds of students remain with us on campus. In a fast-moving situation we put extra resources into mental health support and pointed students to a range of essential provisions, including via the Students’ Union, as well as delivering social activities within the regulations. “
“We consistently said this year would be a mix of on-line and face-to-face teaching designed to deliver high-quality degrees and we have kept that promise. We are gathering student feedback on their learning experience and will continue to act upon it. Government advice in the last few days has meant we have had to stagger the start of face-to-face teaching for some subject areas. We continue to look at options that will make up for any alterations to previously planned face-to-face provision’ in this rapidly-changing situation.”
Approaching the Lancaster University and Scotforth Rural Ward Councillors from the Labour Party and from the Eco-Socialist Independents on the 5th January, we received a reply from Oliver Robinson in his acting role as City Councillor. Oliver Robinson expressed his support as a Councillor in a public post and further offered a statement to SCAN, stating: “I absolutely support the rent strikers and their efforts, and I wish them the best of luck. Their demands for justice in a year that has seen students kicked about as a monetary football are well founded, and I fully support all of their demands. I hope that the University shows that we are a vibrant academic community, and that students are more than just cash cows for them to extract money from.”
The Liberation Campus Officers have further published a statement in support of the rent strike in a post on social media, supporting the demands made by the rent strike and stating that “no student should be expected to pay for services and accommodation that they are currently not using due to extreme circumstances such as COVID-19. We will be supporting this student-led campaign in any way we can. We hope that the University and the Student Union do the right thing and support students in these times”.
As of writing, the rent strike group have publicised that they have over 500 hundred current students willing to take part in the strike ahead of the upcoming rent payment date. This rent strike comes amid a growing demand for an academic safety net to be introduced to allow for coursework extensions and for rapid consultation with Academic Faculty Reps to discuss how assessment and teaching will proceed in 2021.