Published On: Wed, Jan 13th, 2021

Rent strike wave set to hit UK universities: Fight for free education!

Thousands of students at over 45 universities are preparing to undertake rent strikes this month. This is the biggest ever wave of student rent strikes to take place – a reflection of the profound crisis we are living through, and of the radical mood amongst young people. Marxist societies around the country are part of this important fight.

As part of the latest national lockdown, students have been told to stay where they are, and to delay their return to university. This announcement has added fuel to the fire amongst students, who were already fuming from the chaotic COVID situation seen on campuses at the start of the academic year, when university management lulled students into unsafe accommodation.

Further rent strike campaigns were formed immediately in response to the new lockdown. These come on the back of successful action by Manchester students last November, who have won a 30% rent reduction for the first term, and a 10% reduction for the rest of the year.

Buoyed by this victory, students up and down the country are putting forward radical demands. In Brunel, campaigners are demanding a full refund on rent and tuition fees.

Although rent strikes have yet to begin in most places, university bosses and private student accommodation owners are already feeling the heat, and have started to hold out concessions.

Unite Students, the largest student accommodation provider in the country, has offered its tenants a 50% rent reduction. Some universities have also offered reductions for those in halls of residence.

But we don’t need to settle for crumbs. Instead, we must organise and fight for much more. The lesson from these recent concessions is clear: militancy pays!

Fight to transform education

If isolated, any rent strike is vulnerable to harsh clampdowns by management. Through collective and united action, however, students have the potential not to only win considerable reductions in rent, but also to revitalise the fight for free education.

Different national groups have formed to link these struggles. This demonstrates the potential that this strike wave has to create permanent structures through which students can fight for their own interest.

The current battle cannot be viewed as an isolated, one-off event. The crisis of capitalism is not going to end any time soon. Next year’s students will therefore be facing even more insecurity than the current generation.

We should fight to fundamentally change the university system: to make education free and accessible for all – not just for ourselves this year, but for all students every year.

This strike wave is not an accidental occurrence, but is the result of years of cumulative attacks against higher education.

Over the last two years, we have seen two national UCU strikes, supported by the majority of students. Students have joined picket lines to support academic staff, recognising that the fight for decent staff pay, pensions, and conditions is connected with the fight for free education, and the struggle against the marketisation of education.

Strength in unity

rent strikeThe Marxist Student Federation is active in over a dozen local rent strikes. As well as putting forward bold political demands, Marxist activists are calling for the formation of a structured, democratic national organisation to oversee this huge rent strike movement. Mass participation is the greatest strength that students have.

The Manchester victory, along with other recent concessions offered, shows the potential. Think how much more could be achieved if the vast majority of students were involved in this fight, locally and nationally.

We demand:

  • Full refunds on rent and tuition fees!
  • Universities to open their books – let us see where our money goes!
  • Students and staff unite! Fight for democratic control of universities!

Our demands

Below is a statement from the Marxist Student Federation, outlining our key demands for the rent strike movement. If you agree with this statement and these demands, please sign below.


Last term we were enticed back to university campuses, only to be locked down in mostly substandard accommodation, sometimes enforced with security patrols and metal fences. Social activities and mental health support have been poor to non-existent.

This was entirely foreseeable. But the government and university management encouraged students to move into these terrible conditions purely to guarantee rent money for universities and landlords. This money was taken from us using deception.

Our education should be in the form of face-to-face lectures, labs, and seminars. And informally through the ‘university experience’ of making friends, joining societies, and living independently for the first time.

Through no fault of their own, staff have been rushed into putting together online lessons which are not equivalent to face-to-face teaching. Student unions have been forced to shut down almost all activities. The government’s atrocious handling of the pandemic means that this state of affairs is likely to last for almost the entire academic year.

University management has decided to continue unfairly extracting tuition fees and rent from us, saying they need to ‘balance their books’. We would like to see the proof. We demand to see the full accounts for all universities, which clearly show how much money is spent on accommodation, maintenance, and teaching, compared to how much is spent on the salaries of vice chancellors and management, as well as on lavish prestige projects.

What is clear is that successive governments have marketised education by cutting state funding to universities. Education is being treated as a commodity and a privilege, instead of a public good and a right.

Students are being forced to pay extortionate rent and tuition, even in the context of pandemic, because of this marketisation. We demand that our student unions and the NUS join a campaign to demand free and fully funded education, with maintenance grants for all students.

We are not simply fighting for a one-off refund. Never again should students be subjected to the conditions we have faced this year. Universities must give students control over how the institution’s accommodation and finances are run.

Along with staff, and through democratic channels, students should be directly involved in the decision-making of their university’s administration. Students and staff are the core of a university and are best placed to decide how to run it.

We call for a national committee of rent strikers – democratically elected to represent all students around the country taking this action – to adopt the following demands and campaign for them at a national level:

  • A full refund of all rent paid by students so far this academic year and release from further payments.
  • A full refund of tuition fees for this academic year.
  • Universities to publish detailed breakdowns of income and expenditure, especially relating to accommodation and maintenance, to be circulated to all students.
  • Student unions and the NUS to actively campaign for free education, with maintenance grants for all students.
  • Students and staff to be given control over financial decision-making in the university.
  • Link up with trade unions to ensure no COVID job losses.

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