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University of Edinburgh students join UK-wide accommodation rent strikes

The student-led group Rent Justice Edinburgh began a rent strike across university accommodation on 1 January 2021, with the intention of continuing until the university meets their demand of a 50 per cent rent reduction, joining 45 other universities across the UK. 

On 19th January 2021 Rent Justice Edinburgh said to The Student:

“On the 3rd of January we sent a clear message to senior staff and the accommodation team to announce that our strike had begun, and we wouldn’t stop until we believed that they were offering a fair compensation to the students they had exploited for their own profit through a misrepresented hybrid learning structure and inflated rent.

“Instead of communicating with us, students withholding rent have only received threatening phone calls and emails.

“We hope that we’ll gain more leverage with the EUSA on our side (we have submitted a motion which will be voted on the 28th of January), and we strongly encourage all students in university owned accommodation to cancel their rent before February 1st!”

On 5 November 2020, Rent Justice Edinburgh and Student Staff Solidarity Network (SSSN) released a shared report on student halls during the pandemic, stating that “The majority of the students who responded felt that they had been given false information by the university about what they could expect if they came to study in person this year.” 

In early November 2020, Rent Justice Edinburgh sent an open letter to Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson demanding “half rent for all students in university accommodation for the duration of ‘hybrid-learning’, improved quality of online learning platforms and free Wifi upgrades, and protection for any student organising or participating in reasonable action against the university.”

In a press release, Rent Justice Edinburgh announced that their demand of 50 per cent rent reduction was rejected without negotiation, and a rent strike appealing to all students in university accommodation would start on 1 January 2021. 

They stated that Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson and the Senior Leadership Team responded with “[education and student services] would be compromised for all students if our income were to be reduced [by a rent cut].”

Rent Justice Edinburgh said their research shows otherwise, as according to the University of Edinburgh Annual Report and Accounts for the Year to 31 July 2019, the university “disposes of an endowment worth almost £500 million (the 3rd largest in the UK), operates a budget over £1 billion and last year alone made a surplus of £63 million.”

The press release reiterated that Rent Justice Edinburgh supports “pandemic-related regulations in halls and the scaling-back of in-person tuition”, and “though these measures are necessary for the sake of public health, imposing them while maintaining the same financial obligations for students, thereby shifting the burden entirely onto them, is not.” 

A survey published by National Union of Students Scotland (NUSS) on 12 January 2021 found that “over two-thirds of student renters (71 per cent) are concerned about their ability to pay rent and one in seven would not be allowed to leave their tenancy early due to coronavirus.”

On the 25th November 2020, University of Manchester students won £12 million in rent refunds after University of Manchester Rent Strike occupied a university building for two weeks, after which the university agreed to a 30 per cent rent reduction for semester one. 

“Manchester’s win was definitely a big inspiration,” said Rent Justice Edinburgh. 

“The press seemed to be on their side, and it showed everyone that a massive pay out like that was possible – a university as wealthy as Edinburgh should have no excuse to not do the same, or even give more.”

Image: Chemical Engineer via Wikimedia Commons