More than 100 students from a prestigious university in London are refusing to pay rent and are demanding a 40% cut in accommodation prices.
150 students living in two dormitories at University College London (UCL) have held off rental payments valued at over £250,000. The young people, part of The Cut the Rent campaign, say they will not pay until the university cuts the accommodation prices by two-fifths.
According to the protesters, the school’s rental prices have been dramatically increasing since 2009. As Rebecca Pinnington of The National Student notes, the median UCL rent was increased by 56% since 2009, yielding a profit of 45%, £15,799,000 for the university each year. Students on rent strike in Ramsey Hall pay between £158.97–£262.43 per week. The rents in the cheaper Max Rayne, which also has rental strikers, vary from £103 to £232 per week.
Angus O’Brien, one of the organizers of the campaign, told Abby Young-Powell of The Guardian that the unaffordable rental prices prevented prospective students from applying to UCL. Nyima Murry, a freshman in Art History and a striker, commented that during the last term she was forced to work two jobs to be able to pay her bills. She also added:
“I can’t afford to eat if I don’t work. Studying is becoming about your background and how much you’re earning, rather than your ability. “
Many of their peers are moving out of London or struggle with at least two jobs to be able to make ends meet, confessed the students. They strongly believe that decreasing rental prices will encourage students from less privileged families to apply which will in turn diversify UCL’ s students body.
Ashely Cowburn of The Independent writes that this is not the first strike against the living conditions in UCL. Last year a large group of students protested against the poor living conditions in the dormitories, including noisy, rat-infested common areas, cockroaches and a lack of hot water. As a result, the university had to pay the strikers over £100,000 in compensation.
The UCL students also received the full support of The National Union of Students, confirmed Shelly Asquith, the group’s Vice President of Welfare. She agreed that the high accommodation costs were unaffordable for many students.
A spokesperson of UCL said in front of Mark Chandler of The Evening Standard that the university was actively seeking dialogue with the students to discuss the issue:
“We make every effort at UCL to keep rents as low as possible, which is a difficult challenge considering our central London location. Our rents are competitive in comparison with equivalent London institutions, and far less than rates for comparable accommodation in the private sector.”
The spokesperson also completely denied allegations that the UCL accommodations earned a profit for the university by saying:
“All of the money that UCL receives in rent is ploughed back into residences. While the proportions may vary year to year, we invariably spend more on residences than we receive in rental income.”
David Dahlborn, an active member of Cut the Rent campaign, commented that the problem with high rental prices in London concerned not only the students but anyone living in the capital. He cited research by Shelter, according to which 53% of tenants in London were experiencing difficulties to pay their rent, with housing costing them 72% of their total monthly income.