Socialist Students open letter to Rent Strike network: Building the fightback for free education

Below we carry an open letter from Socialist Students’ steering committee to the Rent Strike network’s national co-ordinating committee, requesting a meeting with representatives from the Rent Strike network to discuss what the next steps for building a national student fightback for free education are. The Rent Strike network has links to rent strikes happening at over 45 universities across the country, with Socialist Students members on both its national co-ordinating committee and its national reps group, as well as leading rent strikes in different areas.

We are writing to you today in hopes of initiating a discussion on how our organisations can work together to build the fight for rent and fee refunds for students for the year, as well as the fight for free education.

Across the country, universities this year have been thrown into financial crisis as a result of decades of cuts to funding for Higher Education. The market model of education has meant that students have been lied to by university management, just so they could gain access to our tuition fee and rent payments.

In response to the lies we were told, as well as the complete lack of support given to us by our universities, students have begun the process of getting organised on campuses across the country in the rent strikes. By getting organised, we have demonstrated that students can win – millions of pounds in rent refunds have been won by students so far.

Socialist Students demands 100% rent refunds for students who are unable to move into their halls because of the pandemic. We also demand the right of students in third-party accommodation or the private rented sector to be released from their contracts, with compensation to the landlords paid out only on the basis of proven need. We also put forward the need for rent controls for students to end the rent rip off.

The recent announcements by some universities that there will be no face to face teaching for the rest of the year will rightly fuel the demands of students for further rent rebates for unused accommodation, as well as tuition fee refunds for the year, both of which Socialist Students supports and has campaigned for this year.

Without government funding to make up for these refunds however, universities face deep financial crisis, which means the threat of further cut backs, meaning a further eroding of the quality of education students receive. The threat of divisions between staff and students, which would only benefit university management, is present. Socialist Students has a history of campaigning alongside UCU members to mobilise student support and solidarity with striking campus staff fighting against cuts and job losses on the campuses.

We think therefore that there is a burning need now to discuss how we can build a national student movement which will fight the Tories for the funding which our universities need.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Tories have spent a massive £280 billion, largely towards propping up the profits of big business. The Welsh government last week announced £40 million emergency funding towards Welsh universities hardship funds.

While still an inadequate level of funding, we nonetheless think this represents a victory for students. In addition to this, as a cross party Parliamentary group has called on the Tory government to release £700 million towards the hardship funds of universities in England, the lid is being lifted on what is possible from the point of view of fighting for fully funded and free education.

Socialist Students says that now is the time for the student movement to go on the offensive and boldly demand free education – for the scrapping of tuition fees, the introduction of living grants for students and the cancellation of student debt, linked to a programme of democratic public ownership. Socialist Students says that capitalism has completely failed our education system and young people, which is why we fight for socialist policies to provide every young person with a decent future which includes access to free and high quality education.

We would therefore like to invite a representative or representatives from your national co-ordinating committee to attend a national steering committee of Socialist Students to discuss how we can broaden the current rent strike movement in the fight for free education, to mobilise alongside the rent strikes all of the potential tools at the disposal of the student movement, including occupations, walk outs and marches on campus.

We would also like to invite local rent strike organisers to speak at local public Socialist Students meetings, as well as to invite rent strike organisers to speak at our national conference on Sunday 28 February.

We look forward to hearing your response,

Socialist Students steering committee

Socialist Students calls for;

  • Rent refunds for students. For 100% rent refunds for any student unable to move into their halls for any reason, with the money for those refunds made up for by the government.
  • For the right of students in third-party accommodation or the private rented sector to be released from their contracts. Compensation to the landlords only on the basis of proven need!
  • For rent controls! Bring all third party halls into ownership and control of the universities, as a step towards democratically set rents, decided on by elected committees including students.
  • Refund our tuition fees – this year and every year! Fight for free education and make the 1% pay for it!
  • For a no detriment policy to be introduced for assessments affected by the lockdown.
  • End all cuts! No attacks on jobs, wages and conditions on campus to pay for refunds – make the government pay. For student and staff unity against all cuts on campus.
  • For democratic trade union and student oversight of all health and safety measures taken on campus to stop the spread of the virus – no trust in Vice Chancellors, management or the Tories to handle this crisis in our interests!
  • Build a national student movement to fight for the funding our universities need. Scrap tuition fees, cancel student debt and introduce genuine living grants for students. Fight for fully funded, high quality and free education.

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