Record numbers of students enrolled at university this year. Most universities welcomed them onto campus, collected rents and fees, and then confined many students to their accommodation. The Government instructed those at university to keep calm and study. Meanwhile, coronavirus spread across campuses in record numbers.

Students across the country have been organising against the mismanagement of the pandemic by government ministers and university bosses. Rent strikes in Manchester and Bristol, where over one-thousand students are withholding rent, have led what has quickly become a militant struggle against university management.

Socially-distanced protests at Sheffield Hallam and Liverpool have shown the enthusiasm for bringing this struggle onto the streets. Even the professionally inactive National Union of Students (NUS), whose campaigning potential was restricted even further by last year’s corporate restructure, have co-organised a training session for potential rent strikers alongside Rent Strike, a national coalition of student housing campaigns.

Yesterday, Univerisity of Manchester students stepped up their campaign by occupying a university administrative building, vowing to stay put until their demands are met.

Rent strikers at Manchester and Bristol have issued demands, including 30-40% reductions in rent, proper funding for student mental health services and guarantees that students involved in the strikes will not face repercussions. Rank-and-file trade union activists in Manchester and Bristol have supported the strikes, and tenants’ unions, such as Bristol Acorn, have provided advice on strategy and housing law.

Students at Manchester and Bristol are striking against a backdrop of outsourcing and casualised contracts for university workers. The shameful treatment of this generation of undergraduates only continues the long term marketisation of higher education. The scandalous fees, cuts and privatisation of university accommodation are a result of the decades-long drive towards profitability in the sector.

Students’ interests are entwined with the interests of those cleaning their universities, working in their libraries and giving their lectures. Including the needs of university workers in the demands of the rent strikes provides the central avenue for escalating struggles against university management.

In addition to already existing demands, students should call for:

  • Safety for all students and workers: Free, comprehensive testing in order to transition to in-person teaching only with the support of students and staff.
  • Dignity and respect at work: Outsourced workers need to be brought in-house. No redundancies due to the pandemic. Two years’ secure employment for all casualised staff, in line with the #CoronaContract campaign.
  • Support for students affected by coronavirus: New living support schemes and tuition grants for all students. Immediate suspension of rent for students living in halls. Students must be allowed to defer their studies without consequence and be refunded rent and fees if they choose to return home.
  • Free education for all students: Abolish the disgraceful, elitist tuition fee system which prevents members of the working class from accessing higher education. Universities should be focussed on delivering high quality education to their students, rather than sucking them dry in the pursuit of profit.

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