I don’t want to pay full price for half an experience: Why I joined the Lancs rent strike

Paying full price without being able to access the same resources? I think not

For the past few weeks, Lancaster students have been withholding their rent in a strike to push the university into providing reduced rent and improve the situation that students are in. I’m part of this group and, frankly, the university is taking their sweet time in understanding why students are beyond annoyed at them for keeping rent the same price, while pastoral care and colleges are either stopped, reduced or below acceptable standards.

University students are having a horrific time right now. Blamed for Covid spikes when we moved into halls, pushed to return home in a one week window by the government, and then blamed again for when that one week window caused another spike.

We were sold a lie. First by the government, who told students not to worry about A-Levels, and then by the university that told first-years that they would try to make this year as normal as possible. I don’t know about you but being stuck in a room that is no bigger than a prison cell for sometimes 20+ hours a day has been psychological torture. Here’s why I decided to withhold my rent and join the strikers.

I don’t want to pay to be stuck in my room all day

For this, we are expected to pay over £5,800 for the year. For this. For a sub-standard experience alongside sometimes extreme social isolation, seeing only my flatmates or connecting with other students through group chats.

I think the main view of the strike is that, for students on campus, you’re using the accommodation so why are you complaining? That’s partly right, but they forget the JCR, college and welfare services that we should be able to access on campus. When these services are reduced or non-existent, why should we be paying full price for half a system?

Being in lockdown is bad enough when you’re at home, but when you’re in campus accommodation then the majority of us don’t even have a social space. Yes, we have a kitchen, but it’s no comparison to having a lounge area – this means that we spend so much time isolated in our own rooms, because we can’t exactly spend all day chilling out in a kitchen!

It is not the students’ issue if the university is unable to make a profit this year. What is an issue is trying to split the strikers by offering £400 to those still off-campus while others have had to return to campus due to issues at home or in general that make staying off-campus impossible. There is no excuse for the university attempting to split rent strikers in this way. You cannot tell one faction of strikers they get a small deduction while telling others that, because they returned to campus, they will get nothing. Not only this but if you’re in a standard room then £400 might cover the best part of a month’s rent – to someone in a studio, then that covers way less. Offering us a flat rate, rather than a percentage just disadvantages more of us.

I will not pay for poor mental health

I cannot return home. My home life is tumultuous at best, which means no place to peacefully study or engage with my course effectively. I have no place to sit and have seminars or have the ability to access adequate WiFi, as my parents and younger siblings equally have meetings and Teams calls to do. Have you ever tried to get onto a seminar or video call while four other people are overusing the bandwidth doing the same thing? It’s hell.

It’s literal hell to be there knowing you are paying for a degree and cannot even access the materials or lessons you are paying over £9,000 a year for. Not to mention being on campus means I have access to safe spaces like the library – one of the few places I can be and zone out from everything, and just study. To not have such places to escape to and study in silence, away from distraction, impacts my mental health significantly to the point that it has scared me.

I do sympathise with the lecturers and those struggling too. It is not easy having everything online and dealing with the new system of recording lectures and dealing with increased only communication from students about the same issue repetitively. It’s also not easy dealing with increased childcare and home duties, but the university understands their issues and has appeared to help out as much as possible. How can they treat those paying for university so badly? University is so commercialised now, so it might as well be treated as such – in any commercial agreement, if you were mis-sold something then there’s usually steps that can be taken to get your money back.

I am not accepting the “times are hard” talk they are using on students. I expected better from a Top 10 university, and a lot of others did too. I will remain rent striking until the university accepts that they have wronged students significantly. At this point, it’s no longer funny – it’s disgraceful.

In response to the argument presented in this article, a spokesperson from the university has provided a statement: “The Government restrictions relating to delivery of teaching and other services are very different to those we worked with last summer and there is a clear expectation by ministers and regulators about our ability to continue to deliver education, teaching and services during this period of lockdown, which is currently in place to mid-February. We have had to adapt to this fast-moving situation but students remain at the centre of our decision making.

“As a University, we set out to deliver high-quality degrees to our students and we intend to keep that promise. Significant effort and investment has been made to ensure that all students can continue to access our services and education wherever they are located – either remotely or in-person as government restrictions permit. We are not complacent about this and are continually gathering student feedback on their learning experience and responding to it.

“Extra resources have been put into mental health support, providing additional appointments and opt-in apps to monitor student wellbeing followed up with phone calls and in-person welfare checks. Throughout the whole pandemic, the college advisor teams continued to support students both on campus and elsewhere. Since March 2020 our Nine Colleges Office has been open every weekday on campus providing a safe point of contact and advice for students. We remained open throughout the Christmas break.

“To date, the university has provided a £400 goodwill payment in recognition of the effects of the current restrictions. In addition to the relief provided on accommodation last year, this means we will have returned £10m in total to Lancaster students during the course of the pandemic. We are also mindful of those facing particular hardship and encourage any student in that situation – as a result of the pandemic or otherwise – to apply for hardship support. ”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Raising awareness about the refugee crisis: An interview with ‘SolidariTree’ at Lancs Uni

Lancaster University offers £400 rent payment in response to strike

LUSU’s VP Education announces resignation