Amid rocketing COVID cases on university campuses and spiralling accommodation lock-downs, students are rising up and demanding justice.
In the last two weeks, students at the University of Manchester and University of Bristol announced rent strikes, calling out university management for pushing ahead with a return to campuses even though they were clearly unprepared for the eventual spread of the virus.
Sending students across the country to be packed into accommodation blocks – whether privately or university run – has generated a wave of outbreaks, putting staff and students with underlying health conditions at serious risk, and others at risk of suffering the effects of long COVID.
The resulting accommodation lock-downs are also becoming a serious threat to student welfare. On top of the fear of contracting the virus, students shielding are at risk of severe isolation. Some have also stated that they have been stuck with poor access basic necessities such as food and laundry services.
In the summer, students were promised ‘blended learning opportunities’, but since an overwhelming majority of teaching has been brought online, it’s abundantly clear that not all students needed to be on campus this term.
Not only this, but increasing numbers of students are struggling to access their education. Of the students who have had online learning provided by their institution last term, almost 1 in 3 were unable to access their education – and similar concerns are arising again. With blended learning experiences being introduced on campuses, this offers new opportunities for students with disabilities and caring responsibilities to access their education. However, this opportunity is not always being seized, and unless immediate action is taken, students from poorer backgrounds without access to laptops or adequate internet are also set to lose out.
While the Tory government left universities to choose between financial disaster and filling the funding gap through student recruitment, university managers have transferred their financial risks to students. Now paying extortionate accommodation fees, and facing immediate financial insecurity in not being able to find part-time work, many students are at risk of being priced out of accessing their education.
Alongside this, both universities and private accommodation providers have long seen students as a cash cow to be milked through rip off rents. Right now is no different. But as students are being locked up in halls of residence to access online classes, thousands are being prevented from getting out of their contracts early by punitive fines or being prohibited from leaving them altogether.
In the face of this shocking situation, students are standing up, and they’re rightly fighting back.
The Young Greens stand unequivocally in solidarity with the rent strikers. We believe this generation of students are being punished to plug a funding gap in the higher education sector that the government should be alleviating. By standing together, students have the power to stop this – and to win.