500 Cambridge students pledge to ‘withold rent’ next term as part of Cambridge Rent Strike

Cambridge students are demanding a 30 per cent reduction in rent for the 2020/21 academic year

Over 500 students at the University of Cambridge have pledged to “withhold rent” in Lent 2021 according to the Rent Strike Cambridge Facebook page.

An organiser has estimated that this could equate to around £800,000 in withheld rent.

The movement has been rapidly gathering pace over recent weeks as tensions rise amongst the student body regarding the university’s rent policy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The movement, launched in late November of this year, is made up of a growing collection of students demanding a 30 per cent reduction in rent costs for the 2020/21 academic year and a commitment to a permanent 10 per cent reduction in costs for the academic years to come.

At Girton alone, 52 students have pledged to rent strike, representing almost a tenth of the undergraduate population there.

Almost 1/10 Girton students have pledged to rent strike Photo credit: Screenshot Author’s own

Reflecting on the masses of support achieved within the student body, Laura Hone, a representative of Rent Strike Cambridge told The Tab Cambridge: “There has clearly been this mass explosion of student anger and a realisation amongst student bodies across the UK that the mistreatment that they have suffered during the pandemic is not an accident.

“Cambridge colleges are little more than landlords and bosses, they are run like businesses and that’s why they are continually failing to put the welfare of students and staff first.”

Rent Strike Cambridge have a list of demands for the university and its colleges regarding rent costs and job protection. (Image credit: Rent Strike Cambridge Facebook).

Rent Strike Cambridge believe that students are being punished by having to pay “exorbitant rent” costs due to a crisis that is entirely out of their control. They feel that the students are unfairly “bearing the brunt of government and university mismanagement.”

In an open letter, the organisation writes: “We [the students] are all being exploited by this university and we should be angry…We, the student renters, are paying exorbitant rent and facing unreasonable disciplinary procedures. We, the international students, have paid to quarantine for weeks with no guarantees about when we can go home.”

Students involved feel that the strike is necessary as “the Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Colleges have repeatedly ignored the basic requests of students for safe living conditions.”

However, the organisation states that the strike is not only for students at the university, but also for those who work in its colleges and other facilities. “We rent strike to protect the jobs and livelihoods of workers across the university and colleges. Mass redundancies are taking place at several colleges, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Assessment, and Cambridge Museums. Their fight is our fight.”

Alongside with the demands to lower rent costs, the open letter demands that students be allowed to study remotely if they desire, that there is stronger protection for jobs within the university with a promise to commit to zero job losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and finally a promise to grant immunity to all those students who partake in the strike protecting them from any related disciplinary action.

Rent Strike Cambridge are currently running a “12 Days of Strikemas” campaign on social media in which students have shared their experiences with the rent policy. One international student from Clare says that they felt “isolated, abandoned and deceived by [their] college” after being charged £30 a night when quarantining before the beginning of Michaelmas term.

A student at Robinson writes that “there is a complete lack of understanding or compassion towards students”, a Pembroke student believes that “for too long students and university staff have been viewed through the lens of profit and loss” and a Sidney Sussex student writes that “despite suffering with mental health problems that caused [them] to intermit last year, [they] were not checked in on by a member of the pastoral team once going into isolation.”

The organisation plans to start striking in January “until the university and every college agree to a 30 per cent rent reduction”.

Rent Strike Cambridge has repeatedly argued that the risk of disciplinary measures against rent-strikers is low. Rent-striking theoretically means colleges “are entitled to evict students” or “issue for a county court judgement on rent arrears.” However, Rent Strike Cambridge point out “none of the student rent strikes in recent years have resulted in disciplinary action”, and believe that it is “highly unlikely that the college would take legal action against students.” They also assure that “rent strikes [will] only go ahead when a significant number of students agree to take part.”

Information from Cambridge Rent Strike information pack Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

Cambridge is not the only university planning a rent strike: at least 17 other rent strikes are being planned at UK universities, including Oxford, Bristol, UCL and Manchester. It comes after around 215 students at the University of Manchester managed to achieve a 30 per cent rent reduction earlier this academic year.

At least 18 universities are going on rent strike in January Tweet from @rentstrikeUoM

When approached for comment, a University spokesperson told The Tab Cambridge: “Cambridge has been providing high-quality education through a mix of in-person and online teaching, in line with government guidance, and the overwhelming majority of our more than 23,000 students have been strongly appreciative.

“This has included 31 colleges maintaining as many of their services as possible, including catering and accommodation – with a full range of tutorial and pastoral support.”

You can find more information about Rent Strike Cambridge here. 

Feature Image Credit: Screenshot from Rent Strike Cambridge Facebook page