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400 students join rent strike at Cambridge University

Rent strikers at Cambridge University. Picture: Milo Layton
Rent strikers at Cambridge University. Picture: Milo Layton

More than 400 students at the University of Cambridge have joined the rent strike, a national campaign to reduce student rents by 30 per cent during Covid.

With the next rent due to be paid in January, Cambridge students have insisted they will refuse to pay.

“My course is online now,” said one of the strikers, Tara, who is in halls at Sidney Sussex. “We were forced to come back in the middle of a pandemic, there was no provision for being taught from home.

“We were told we had to come back to study via email, in September, with no provision for being taught from home - this varies from college to college.

“We had personal meetings of reassurance. The university says most Cambridge students are happy but obviously that’s not the case for me and many others. We hope they will open negotiations with us so we can have a fair say in the matter.

“I’m one of the people who feels that change needs to happen here, we feel disenfranchised. Our mental health has been put at risk for profit. It’s now up to the university to respond and if they don’t we’ll carry on not paying our rent.”

The student rent is around £160 a week, depending on the college.

Lara, a second year student at the university, said: “I got involved in setting the rent strike up after an open meeting with the vice-chancellor three weeks ago. After that we relayed concerns to senior management, but we felt we weren’t being listened to. The strike came about because all other avenues had been exhausted.

The rent strike is a national movement of university students. Picture: Milo Layton
The rent strike is a national movement of university students. Picture: Milo Layton

“I’m paying rent at Clare, which is up to date. The next payment is due in January. We’ve asked for a 30 per cent reduction for the duration of the pandemic. There have been some reasonably favourable discussions with some heads of colleges.

“Most courses are now online, which is frustrating. We’re all in a vulnerable situation, and the university hasn’t made any concessions to that.

The students have been supported by Acorn, a Bristol-based community and renters’ union and anti-poverty organising group. There are at least 20 rent strikes now under way or being organised in UK universities. Last month Manchester University agreed to cut rent by 30 per cent in its halls for the next academic term.

Laura Rettie, vice president of Global Communications at education consultancy Studee, said: “Students have had an incredibly difficult year, and it’s easy to understand why they feel so aggrieved - they’ve been told to come to campus, only to be kept in quarantine and taught online. They could have easily studied at home without spending additional money on top of tuition fees to live close to or on campus.

“It will be interesting to see how many students actually decide to return to campus rather than staying at home after Christmas - I wouldn’t blame them if they opted for the cheaper option of staying with mum and dad. I can’t help but feel really sad for the students of 2020 - they’ve been dealt a really bad hand. It’s crucial universities take this additional cost for students into account when the decision is made to move to fully online lectures.”

A university spokesperson said: “Cambridge has been providing high-quality education through a mix of in-person and online teaching, in line with government guidance, and the majority of students have been strongly appreciative. This has included colleges maintaining as many of their services as possible, including catering and accommodation – with a full range of tutorial and pastoral support.”

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