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“Abandoned” students slam “immoral and corrupt” University and threaten a rent strike if their demands are not met

A group of University of Edinburgh students, who are residents in student accommodation, have come together under the collective “Rent Justice Edinburgh” to demand a reduction in rent. Their open letter to Peter Mathieson, vice-chancellor and principal of the University, outlines three demands that they say must be met or else they will attempt to initiate a rent strike.

The group has given the University until 24th November 2020 to respond to their demand and say that should the University fail to implement any of their demands, they will initiate a rent strike. A spokesperson for the group indicated to The Student that “about 100 [students] have expressed interest” and that the strike will continue for “as long as it takes to acquire suitable concessions to our demands”.

In the letter, they demand “a 50% reduction in rent for as long as the university’s hybrid learning model operates”, an improvement to online learning with students in university accommodation having access to “free superior WiFi” and a promise that students participating in “reasonable action against the university” – including their proposed rent strike – will face no “legal or academic repercussions”. The demands come after an effort by the collective to collect testimonies from over 100 students, who expressed what the group called an “overwhelming sense of frustration, anger and social isolation that is deeply concerning”.

The group say that the majority of the students who responded to their request for testimonies felt that they had been misled and falsely informed by the University with regards to the “hybrid learning” concept. One comment, which the group say is indicative of many of the responses they received, said that the University “insisted we move to Edinburgh only for all my lessons to be not just online but all asynchronous. Had I known I’d have stayed at home and saved on the rent”.

One student went as far to say that the University letting them into halls at the start of the semester was “one of the most immoral and corrupt moves I’ve seen in terms of the Covid-19 situation.” Many students also expressed anger and frustration that the Wifi in student accommodation “can’t support online learning at all”.

Like many universities across Scotland, Edinburgh University struggled to contain a large outbreak of cases within the student community at the start of the semester. On 8th October, the number of live Covid cases reported to the University peaked at 324. The peak in cases came amidst reports that students isolating in student accommodation were left without food, access to laundry facilities and went days without wellbeing check-ups. The testimonies that the group received reflected concerning widespread feelings of social isolation and loneliness, with online teaching and Covid restrictions making it harder for new students to make friends.

One student said, “Obviously there is far less freedom but also it’s been quite lonely. It’s hard to meet anyone, especially with the common room closed and all the rules… Cabin fever is running rampant since nearly everything is online now.”

Another new student added, “I spend most [of] my time [alone] here, I have limited contact time with other which has caused loneliness and anxiety.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson told The Student, “We are aware of the concerns raised by some of our students and will be responding to them directly as soon as we can”.

Image: Rent Justice Edinburgh