UCL Cut the Rent strikers have voted to accept the university’s offer of a rent subsidy of £350,000 for next year and £500,000 the year after. UCL management have also agreed to rescind the £25 fine levied on striking students.
Over 72% of Cut the Rent (CTR) strikers have voted to bring to a halt strike action against UCL, agreeing to pay the £250,000 being withheld from the university. Deciding to raise last week’s offer of £200,000, UCL offered students a means-tested subsidy of £350,000 for 2016/17 for students at UCL halls, rising to £500,000 in the year 2017/18, a further development after UCL agreed to reduce rents of cheaper rooms. This has come after increasing student frustration over high rent, which has increased 40% in the last six years, with a room at an average of £170 p/w.
|CTR Demands||UCL Offer|
Rex Knight, UCL Vice Provost, said: “We welcome this outcome, which has come about as a result of positive negotiations”. Pearl Ahrens, Student Representative at UCL residence Schafer House said about the offer: “Negotiations were productive. The resulting freeze and accommodation bursary is the first step in the road to a universal rent cut at UCL. There are plenty of problems with the accommodation bursary but I welcome what it signals: that management is able to yield to our demands”, speaking to Westminster Review. Faculty Representative David Dahlborn, went further, claiming UCL’s lowering rents by an average of 6% shows they have “admitted that we were right all along. It’s the first successful rent strike in London since the war – possibly a watershed moment.”
Some criticism has been leveled against CTR for accepting the offer. The initial demand for a 40% rent cut has not been satisfied, with rent being reduced marginally. Furthermore, the increased subsidy is to be offset by a bursary cut for students from the lowest income families, from £3,000 to £2,000 next academic year. Striker, Jed, said “I don’t know why Cut the Rent has claimed this as a victory. Our rent has not been cut, and the bursary is still being reduced”.
This year’s strike has shown student activism can bring real change. UCL management had initially claimed they would “pursue evictions”, with UCL Director of Estates, Andrew Grainger stating: “Some people just simply cannot afford to study in London and that is just a fact of life.” The rent strike may help to change this.
But, for some, the campaign has been about more than rent. European Social and Political Studies student, Angus O’Brien, a lead CTR figure, believes “the rent issue is not merely a function of London’s crazed housing market, but part of a broader shift in the ethos of UCL”, in an interview with the Financial Times last week. He claimed that the student increase of 19,000 to 38,000 in the past decade has seen “an infinite loop of growth,” where funding and growth have been prioritised, replacing concerns of “making education accessible and affordable”.
University commercialisation is a growing concern for London students. UCL claim to have taken action, “lowering and freezing rents on cheaper rooms”, “reducing the standard letting period from 40 to 39 weeks next year”, and “adding bed spaces at lower rents, including more shared rooms”.
UCL is struggling financially, however. Provost, Michael Arthur, said this month the university was in a “barely financially sustainable position”, with an annual surplus considerably lower than London rivals. Even the £8 million accommodation surplus in 2013-14 is essential to go towards paying for the £1.25bn UCL East project in Stratford, not to mention the £75 million redevelopment and expansion for residences Astor College and Ramsay Hall.
Commercialisation is inescapable for UCL. London rent prices will remain sky high and UCL’s debts must be repaid. Projects are already underway with the university’s new campus to be opened in 2019/2020. But, Cut the Rent has helped to mitigate the impact this will have on some of the poorest students, and shown students can make an immovable object like UCL listen to their demands.