By Teddy Coward, Co-Editor-in-Chief
A group of students on course to carry out the largest university rent strike in UK history have handed in their demands to Bristol University management.
Bristol, Cut the Rent, who have so far amassed around 1200 signups from students taking part in the strike, will be withholding their rent payment from midnight tonight.
The strike has been organised to protest against the University’s treatment of students in quarantine, including issues of food provision and access to mental health services.
Rent will be withheld by the strikers until the University gives in to a list of their demands, which were delivered at Beacon House at 3:45pm this afternoon.
One of the group’s central demands is for a 30 per cent rent reduction for those who decide to stay in their halls for the whole year group.
Before handing in their notice, members from the group spoke about their experiences of being in isolation and their views on the University’s response.
Louis Holmes, a first year politics and international relations student, said: ‘I’m here today because I’m angry with University management. I knew it would be unsafe for me as a student with asthma to come to crowded halls where outbreaks were bound to happen.’
‘Now, I realise I’m learning almost entirely online the purpose of me being here becomes clear: students have been brought back by the University and the government so they can extract money from us through rent; yet another example during this pandemic where greed has come before the safety of people – both staff and students.’
‘We are holding our rent as a last resort. Our health and safety have been jeopardised so that rent money can be taken from us. But we’re not going to let that happen without putting up a fight.’
The full list of demands includes:
• No repercussion for rent strikers
• 30% cut of the rent for the whole year for those who decide to stay in halls
• No-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for anyone who wishes to move out of halls
The group are also calling for ‘more of the University in terms of their response to students in isolation’, and are demanding that:
• Students in locked-down halls be guaranteed at least one hour of time in outside communal halls spaces
• Food boxes be delivered to flats
• Regular mental health check-ins are given twice a week with each flat by Resilife
• Full transparency on the powers, role and actions of any security staff enforcing lockdown in halls is provided.
Members from Bristol SU, including Undergraduate Education Officer, David Ion, and Student Living Officer, Ruth Day, were in attendance at today’s demonstration and reiterated their support for the strike.
Adding to the speeches, Ruth Day said: ‘We fully support our student’s right to organise, we just want to lift their voice up.
‘And we’re really happy to say the University will be meeting with four representatives from the strike on Monday with myself.’
‘I’m really proud of the strike and Bristol SU stands in full solidarity and we will be supporting them throughout the whole strike.’
The University have said: ‘We fully acknowledge how stressful and challenging the current situation is.
‘We are doing our utmost to ensure our students can continue with their education in the safest environment possible in what are unprecedented times.
‘Students who withhold their rent will suffer no detriment to their educational progress, however we will ultimately have to follow our standard debt collection procedure as per our tenancy agreement.
‘Although students are facing some necessary restrictions to safeguard their health and the health of others, we have been as flexible as possible and believe we’ve gone above and beyond to provide support.
‘Those that are self-isolating are provided with cleaning supplies, laundry services and free food boxes.
‘We do not make a profit from student rent and all accommodation fees are used for operating, maintaining, and improving the residences. This includes 24/7 pastoral and wellbeing support.’
‘We have always been clear about our plan to offer a blend of online and in-person teaching. This blended learning provision has been created to ensure students can still continue with their studies online if they are self-isolating or choose not to come to Bristol.
‘Students who aren’t having to self-isolate are still able to attend face-to-face learning and move around freely within Government guidelines.
On Monday, 26 October, four representatives from Bristol, Cut the Rent will be meeting with senior management at the University to discuss the strike and the group’s demands.
Featured Image: Epigram / Teddy Coward
Are you taking part in the rent strike action from midnight tonight?