Opinion: I am going on rent strike at Bristol Uni and here’s why

Our demands are the least they should do

I am a second year student in halls at Bristol Uni and I am participating in the rent strike.

From Thursday 24th October, over 1,000 students like me will withhold over £1 million in rent until the university meets our demands. 

Students across the country were reassured by universities that a return to campus was safe, and Bristol also made this very clear. We were told that there would be “blended” learning, justifying the payment of full £9k fees, rent, and also our presence.

After one month, it is unrealistic and irresponsible for universities to act like the experience has not changed. Students have the right to feel safe. Leniency and agreeing to the strike demands are the best way that this can be achieved.

Bristol Uni makes £12 million in profits on halls

For context, Bristol University makes over a staggering £12 million in profit from student hall rent each year. We aren’t cash cows. We deserve to get our moneys worth.

One week into being back in Bristol, my flat had to isolate whilst we waited to receive our Covid test results. We promptly received food parcels from the university, oddly just left in the stairwell of our halls. Luckily for us we were fully supplied with a large amount of  branded store cupboard food, from crackers to soya milk, jackfruit to passata. Students in other halls weren’t so lucky.

The food box delivered to my corridor. Other halls weren’t so lucky…

What strikes me is the lack of consistency in the university’s support for students in halls – it really depends on where you are. Furthermore, many students’ parcels do not contain sanitary products, loo roll or cleaning supplies. Given the rapidly  increasing number of cases, it is not a surprise that supermarket delivery slots are lacking.

It is therefore essential the university offers a coordinated and thorough supply of provisions for those in isolation, regardless of which halls students are in. Some isolating students have been allowed time outside, others have not; the guidance really is mixed. This inconsistency only makes it harder for students to follow guidelines. 

Students understand the gravity of the pandemic, though those in charge may not appreciate that we do. Whilst we have had to adapt, universities cannot continue to take our fees and rent money as though nothing has changed.

This year at uni is NOT worth £9k

I am grateful for Bristol offering both in person and online teaching, however the difference in quality should have been made very clear prior to student arrival. Having experienced that new online approach to learning, I can now confirm that it is not worth £9k as many speculated it wouldn’t be.

For many, especially international students, the choice to stay away from campus and learn fully online may have been instrumental to their decision to commit to housing or not. Finances are not one size fits all.

I chose to live in halls this year to save money in this expensive city, yet most of us could have had the choice of saving on rent altogether. It feels as though we are having our pockets emptied of both fees and rent without any consideration of the quality of product that we are receiving this year. It certainly isn’t worth as much as previous years. 

As a second year with lovely flatmates and in a city I know well, I can only imagine the stress and strain so many first years in halls must be feeling right now. The university has failed to fully acknowledge this. Moving to uni can be isolating and, for many, the thought of being holed up with near strangers for lengthy periods is very distressing. The university must actively check in on students, and not just wait for them to come for help.

Students deserve to be treated with respect

Reassuring students it is safe to return, taking rent payments, and then offering no leniency as campus becomes more unsafe is disingenuous and unfair. Just as finances are not one size fits all, neither is the student experience. There are immunocompromised students, students with caring responsibilities, mental health problems, money issues – a whole wealth of factors that mean the university should revise their approach to accommodation.

A release from contracts and refund of rent has to be accepted. 

The university can make moves to amend this now; and this must be done by meeting the demands of the strike. Give students the choice to leave, or support them fully if they choose to stay. We deserve that choice, and to be treated with respect.

Are you participating in the rent strike? Drop us a DM on Instagram and tell us why!

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