Students organise against greedy landlords in Plymouth

Sami Vickery, Plymouth College of Art

I write on behalf of the tenants of the Old Dairy, a student accommodation under the Host Student Accommodation umbrella located in Plymouth.

The Old Dairy is private rented accommodation provided by Host Student Accommodation to students in the University of Plymouth and Plymouth College of Art. It is one of the few Plymouth student let buildings that have yet to put into place measures to assist students during these special circumstances such as rent discounts or early cancellation of our tenancy agreements.

These current times are extremely stressful and difficult, especially as we don’t know what’s going to happen regarding our studies, which is why we ask that our voices be heard. Rather than staying in large blocks of shared flats, a lot of students have opted to return to our families, to ensure we’re adhering to social distancing recommendations.

With many students having returned home we are unhappy that we are still required to pay in full for our accommodation when our college has shut. We’re even expected to pay utilities as part of our rent, utilities that simply aren’t being used since many of us are not present in our flats. The situation has been acknowledged by Host in an email; ultimately however, Host has told us that no action will be taken and that no changes will be made to tenant contracts.

Students have collected over 400 signatories in less than a week for a petition demanding changes to Host’s cancellation policy to allow students to exit their contracts early due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Host Student Accommodation has repeatedly denied any attempts for early termination, and will only do so if you receive a letter from your GP to exempt you from the tenancy agreement. This further highlights how poorly this is being handled, opting to take away precious time from doctors, who are the only ones to send off these documents, to settle petty disputes. This proves that Host Students Accommodation has chosen money over morals.

Discussion about the possibility of a rent strike and reaching out to the press are currently being held by the Old Dairy student body, however we feel that it is unreasonable that it has even gotten to this point.

Our colleges and universities have shut; does the government seriously expect students to pay for our rent in full when and many of us have lost jobs or are on reduced pay? Surely it’s not unreasonable to not pay for accommodation we’re not using?

Socialist Students demands;

  • For universities to provide rent free accommodation for students and international students who are unable to get home because of self-isolation, transport cancellations etc. No evictions of any students who are unable to pay the rent.
  • For the right of students who have been forced to move home because of the coronavirus to withdraw from their housing contracts early without the loss of any deposit.
  • For universities to provide affordable and decent accommodation for students. For rents capped at no higher than a quarter of the average student maintenance loan – end the driving of students into the arms of rip off landlords and letting agencies. Ban all agency and contract fees.
  • For the establishment of democratic student rent strike committees across accommodation to organise mass collective non-payment of rent campaigns when necessary. 

Universities Sack Workers Without Warning

Reece Lawton, Nottingham University Socialist Students

Coronavirus is laying bare the callous nature and inefficiency of capitalism. Universities are ostensibly centres where knowledge is pursued for love of knowledge, yet even education is driven by the relentless pursuit for profit. This is becoming more and more apparent as this epidemic continues.

Sackings are taking place in universities across the country because of the anticipated funding shortfall linked to coronavirus. The University of London laid off agency bar workers outrageously through a text and a Facebook post. There were no meetings, no discussions with staff or unions- just immediate sacking of already low paid and precarious workers.

Hundreds of lecturers, researchers and student support workers employed on fixed term contracts have already been told that their employment will or may be ended prematurely, or will not be renewed in the future. With an estimated 70% of researchers in universities employed on temporary contracts, many more university workers will be fearful for the security of their jobs.

These are a few examples of how universities are acting under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they are part of a larger pattern of behaviour of universities caring little for staff. That’s why members of the University and Colleges Union, which organises teaching staff in universities, were recently forced to take strike action across 79 universities over the issues of casualisation, unequal pay, and unpaid overtime, as well as management attacks on pensions.

This happens while the Vice-Chancellors and Chancellors are paid (often by themselves) an average of £256,000 a year!

The silver lining is that, like in numerous other workplaces across the country, university workers are getting organised and fighting back. Sacked bar staff at the University of London have begun organising through their local trade union and are demanding full pay.

Students are also getting organised. In Glasgow for example students have gone on rent strike.

Socialist Students demands not a single cut or redundancy is carried out on the university campuses under the excuse of the coronavirus crisis. If management are threatening cuts, then they should open the books to democratic inspection by trade unions and democratically elected committees of students so that we can see where the money has gone.

And if we find there really isn’t enough money, then we need to fight the Tories for the funding our universities desperately need! Students and workers should not be made to pay for this crisis. Instead, Socialist Students fights for free education – a Higher Education system which is publicly owned and funded, and run under democratic control and management of trade unions and students.  

Glasgow students withhold rent in fightback against greedy landlords

Oisin Duncan, Glasgow Young Socialists and Socialist Students

University students in Glasgow have begun a rent withholding campaign after their student accommodation company, Nido, expected students to continue to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A Students Resident Committee has been set up to organise this protest. It is shameful, in such a difficult and stressful period, that student accommodation companies like Nido Student continue to firstly provide zero guidance on the future of tenants’ contracts, and secondly that they still expect to collect this month’s rent!

Glasgow Young Socialists have read the statement from the Student Resident Committee released today, and extend our full solidarity to those who have taken the impressive initiative to organise on this crucial issue of rent payments during the lockdown. 

To echo and support the points made by the Committee in their statement, it is not only unfair but also totally impractical for Nido to expect rent payments while many students simply will not have the income available to cover these. As pointed out in the statement, the Student Loans Company will continue to pay out during the lockdown, but should this money be immediately paid on to the landlord? 

Most student loan payments amount to around £1,000 for three months – Nido charges £580-700 a month for rent in Glasgow. The company is therefore quite clearly placing their own income above the financial stability and mental health of their tenants, as students would barely have enough money to pay for their groceries or transport home. 

It doesn’t take a maths graduate to work out that these numbers don’t add up – but the argument may be made by Nido that they simply need this income to continue operations. This seems dubious given the fact that private student accommodation seems to be a booming sector in Glasgow (given that Boyce House was just built in September and another block is under construction on Dobbie’s Loan). 

However, if this is truly the case then Nido should open up their books to the Student Resident Committee’s democratic oversight. This would allow the committee not only to verify the claim, but also to participate and take a leading role in figuring out an alternative method of funding the company. 

Regardless, Unite Students (another private accommodation firm) have set a precedent in Glasgow by allowing tenants out of their contracts if they so wish. The Student Resident Committee has rightly pointed this out, and Young Socialists echo the call on Nido to do the same. 

Nido Student, as with all landlords, have a sole duty to provide shelter to their tenants. However, in such a tumultuous period, they simply cannot expect business to continue as usual. The Student Resident Committee has every right to withhold payment until the management complies with the request for more information on the company’s intention. 

The current pandemic, and the government-imposed lockdown, have thrown the routine functioning of Scottish society into disarray. Students have been greatly affected as universities have cancelled classes and many workplaces have shut their doors (including all of the bars, cafes and restaurants where thousands of students work part-time). 

Add to this the recent news that Easyjet, along with other airlines like Ryanair, has grounded all commercial flights means that students who’ve come to Scotland from overseas may be unable to get home for weeks or even months.

Young Socialists members will do our best to support the Student Resident Committee in the event of this, and we call on students and workers to struggle alongside us for suspension of rents during the pandemic and tenants’ right to terminate their contracts if they wish. 

Coronavirus and the campuses

Covid-19, photo NIH/CC

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

As coronavirus has spread onto the university campuses, so has the discussion amongst students and workers on campus about how best to combat the spread of the virus and ensure the health and safety of students and workers.

Universities across the UK have made the announcement that they are offering only online teaching as a precautionary measure to limit face to face interactions and group gatherings to try and slow the spread of the virus.

But as is the case elsewhere in society, the coronavirus crisis has brutally exposed the fragility of the university system after a decade of Tory driven austerity and marketisation. It has also thrust forwards the fundamental question of who is most capable of handling and containing the outbreak of the virus on campus – university management, or workers and students themselves?

Years of Tory cuts and marketisation had seen universities stretched to their very limit even before the arrival of the coronavirus crisis. For the past three years,  university workers in the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have been forced into taking strike action as university management have presided over the explosion of zero hours contracts, a spiralling of workload, a collapse in pay and vicious attacks on pensions.

Meanwhile, the salaries of senior management on the campuses have skyrocketed – vice chancellors now earn an average of £253,000 a year, while nearly half earn over £300,000 a year, and six earn more than £500,000.

The trebling of tuition fees in 2010 by the Tory Liberal coalition marked a shift in how universities were funded, with central government funding for universities ultimately replaced by students’ tuition fees of up to nine thousands pounds a year. Students waged an almighty struggle on university campuses locally and nationally against the trebling of tuition fees.

With universities increasingly dependent on tuition fees as their main source of funding, the campuses have been packed to the gills with students without being accompanied alongside adequate increases in staffing and campus services to handle the massively increased intake of students. Students have suffered the overcrowding of lectures, seminars and libraries, cuts to student services, and extortionate rents for student housing as landlords squeeze as much profit out of students’ maintenance loans as possible.

Only in February was it revealed that management in a number of universities were caught asking students to sit in cafes and other spaces on campus to watch their lectures live streamed! This is a clear consequence of the removal of the cap of the maximum number of students as university management chase tuition fees and the maximum profits they can extract from higher education.

Where does all this leave universities in the face of the growing coronavirus crisis? Not well prepared at all! With staff already overstretched and student support services cut to the bone, university management should ensure emergency funding to make sure that full information and support is available to students, as well as full provision for health needs, including for soaps and sanitary provisions, and also the availability of food deliveries for students who are forced to self-isolate at university.

But how can university management be trusted to prioritise the health of students and staff on campus? Their priority for years has been to keep the money flowing, and to ensure the maximum profitability of the university system for the management at the top of the pile – why would the outbreak of the coronavirus be any different to them?

Socialist Students demands that the campus trade unions, alongside democratically elected committees of students, assume democratic oversight of the measures being taken to contain the virus on campuses. Only then could it be guaranteed that adequate measures are being taken in order to keep students and staff safe.

Reports have also suggested that universities are expecting a significant slowdown in the numbers of international students applying to university for the next academic year. A mere 10% fall in applications of students from China and other countries internationally affected by the virus could see a funding blackhole of approximately £200 million.

Socialist Students demands that any funding shortfall linked to the slowdown due to the coronavirus is not paid for by students or workers in the form of job cuts, attacks to working conditions, or by the further marketisation of higher education. If universities are struggling for funding as a result of the coronavirus, open the books to the democratic inspection of unions and students unions so we can see where our tuition fees are going, and so workers and students can launch a campaign for the funding we need from central government.

Campus workers will be asked to shoulder the burden of the crisis in more ways than this however. It is the workforce on campus – lecturers, teachers, admin and maintenance workers, cleaners, porters and other workers – who are dealing with the fall out of the virus, and will be at risk themselves of infection. We demand all workers should receive full pay and be excluded from any attendance management procedures, including zero hours contract workers on campus.

Socialist Students demands;

  • No more cuts to our education! Open the books to inspection by campus unions and elected student representatives.
  • For universities to produce emergency funding for the provision of support services for students who are forced to self-isolate at university, including health provision and food delivery where necessary. Students unions should be launching such campaigns on campuses.
  • No trust in the university bosses to handle to crisis! For democratic trade union and student union oversight of all measures taken to stop the spread of the virus.
  • For the right of students to defer their exams for a year without academic penalisation.
  • For universities to provide rent free accommodation for students and international students who are unable to get home because of self-isolation, transport cancellations etc.
  • Fight for fully funded and free education! Reverse all cuts and marketisation on campus, cancel student debt, and restore living grants for students!

Student occupation in support of striking workers

Reece Lawton, Nottingham University Socialist Students

On 9 March, students from Nottingham University and Nottingham Trent occupied the Coates Road auditorium at Nottingham Uni in solidarity with the University and College Union (UCU) strike. There are occupations at eleven other universities. 

The occupation will go on until at least the end of the strike on 13 March. Four nights for the four fights – pay, casualisation, workload, and equality.

We invite anyone who wishes, to come in and give talks on what they know – climate justice, labour struggles and so on.

Students have made this decision as they are disgusted with the disrespect shown to lecturers, estate staff, hospitality employees and all other workers at the universities.

Students are showing that we will fight back against casualisation, unfair treatment of staff and the commodification of education. Please send solidarity messages to @UoNSolidarity on twitter and to the Nottingham Student Solidarity Facebook page.

Tory plot at Cardiff University defeated

By Cardiff Socialist Students

Attempts to scrap the support that Cardiff University Students’ Union had given the UCU strike were roundly defeated last night when Tory students couldn’t even get enough students to turn up to an “Emergency Members’ Meeting” (EMM) to debate their motion!

Last November the Students’ Union AGM voted to support action by the UCU by a sizable margin. Lecturers and other university staff are fighting to end precarious working conditions at the university with, despite claiming that they have no zero hour contracts, some staff are on teaching contracts that guarantee only 2 hours a year. The university is also trying to cut pensions and there are sizable gender and race pay gaps at the university as well bas a workload issue that is destroying the lives of members of staff.

The Tory manoeuvre tried to cancel our democratically-agreed support by calling a vote when many students had gone home rather than cross picketlines, trying to overturn the will of the students to stand in solidarity with the staff who teach us.

But not only did it fail: it backfired!

Socialist Students, Cardiff Students Support the Strike and other groups have been out campaigning for students to continue and step up their support. Lots of people are outraged by the Tory plot, and their passive support for lecturers and other university workers has turned into active support.

Joe Healy, from Cardiff Socialist Students and Students Support The Strike said, “It was pathetic, really. The Tories spent weeks trying to rally people to attend but it was obvious what was going to happen. Their petition calling the EMM was deliberately vaguely worded and students have now realised that they were tricked into supporting a sly attempt to undermine our pro-strike stance. Students are happy with the current position: we support our staff in their fight for better conditions for all of us. This isn’t over, but we’re prepared. We said in November and we’ll say it again: this is a joint struggle: students and workers together, and we know that.”

Report – High spirits at Nottingham University UCU picket line

Reece, Nottingham University Socialist Students

This morning, in grim and rainy conditions, members of Socialist Students and other left-wing student organisations joined UCU strikers on picket lines. Despite the early start and the rain, spirits amongst staff and students were high. After pickets ended, the various picket lines from the main campus entrances and other campuses came together by the lake, opposite the building of the Vice Chancellor and other higher management positions. Here, we heard speeches from union reps, students, workers and the Labour MP Nadia Whittome.

It is time for students to coordinate action with striking staff, as our struggles against casualisation, the commodification of education, and attacks on trade unions is a struggle against the same enemy: the capitalist class. The trebling of tuition fees, which came alongside a cut in government funding to universities, has taken its toll on university workers and students alike. On the one hand it has meant increased workloads and attacks on pay, pensions and conditions for staff, while on the other it has meant student debt, spiralling housing costs, and cuts to courses and student services for students.

This strike could be a significant step towards building a united student and worker struggle that fights for the abolition of tuition fees, for the end and reversal the marketisation of higher education, and for a fully funded education system where the objective is the pursuit of knowledge rather than making profit. Join your lecturers, admin staff, and support workers on the picket lines, and let’s build a movement to resist Tory austerity and defend our right to protest on the campuses!

Students and workers out together on Budget Day, March 11!

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

Socialist Students is backing protests against the Tory budget announcement on March 11. Student and young people’s lives have been blotted by a decade of Tory austerity and misery. They offer us no future whatsoever – instead what’s on offer is a lifetime of student debt, poverty pay, the housing crisis and the climate crisis.  

Boris Johnson’s words about austerity being over are hollow. The government has announce that all government departments will see a 5% spending cut, while local councils up and down the country are preparing to take the axe once again to vital local services. Socialist Students is backing the Budget Day protests to say not one more attack against students or workers on behalf on the bosses!

Neither is our education system safe. The university campuses are in complete disarray as a result of the marketisation of Higher Education. Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are on the front line of the fight back against Tory austerity on the campuses, taking strike action spread out over four weeks this term.

They’re taking a stand against spiralling workloads, attacks on pensions and the widening gender pay gap on campus. Students meanwhile suffer all the consequences of Tory austerity on the campuses – spiralling rents, the overcrowding of lectures and libraries, cuts to courses, disappearing student services, and tens of thousands of pounds of student debt. It couldn’t be clearer that the Tory-driven marketisation of Higher Education is piling up the grievances for students and workers alike.

Fight for a socialist alternative to capitalism
The Tories serve the interests of big business and capitalism, a system for which the only priority is the creation of profit for a tiny handful who make up the bosses class at the expense of our futures. Socialist Students stands for a socialist alternative to the misery of capitalism. We fight to take the vast wealth and resources which exist in society into democratic public ownership, starting with the banks and big monopolies. On this socialist basis, workers and young people could democratically plan society to provide a future for all young and working class people.

Socialist Students says;

  • Fight for free, fully funded university education! Cancel all outstanding student debt, and reverse the marketisation of Higher Education!
  • Build council homes and university run not-for-profit student housing
  • End low pay and zero hour contracts
  • For socialist change to end climate change! Nationalise energy provision, privatised utilities and public transport under democratic workers’ control. Step up research on green energy, waste reduction and energy saving
  • Support the UCU strikers! Build a united student and worker fightback on the campuses against the Tories – defend the right to protest on our campuses
  • Take the wealth off the 1% – nationalise the banks and biggest corporations which dominate the economy! International solidarity in the struggle for a socialist world

Students support the UCU strikers!

Bea Gardner, Socialist Students national chair and UCU rep

Socialist Students are in full support of university staff fighting over pensions, pay and conditions. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) will be taking fourteen days of strike action, running from Thursday 20th February and escalating each week, culminating with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March. In total 74 UK universities will take part, with up to 1.2 million students affected.

Destroyed by decades of marketisation – the running of universities for profit- the university sector is now dominated by unsustainable and exploitative work conditions. The issues which university staff are striking over; stagnating wages, zero hour contracts, spiralling workloads, unpaid overtime and pension attacks- are important issues for students too. After all, staff working conditions are our learning conditions.

University bosses raking it in
The strike action will impact student learning, but university bosses are entirely responsible. As tuition fees have risen and staff working conditions declined, it’s the top university bosses who have benefited. The average Vice-Chancellor now earns a ‘basic’ salary of £250,000 pounds a year.
Increased workloads, reliance on casual staff and year on year below inflation pay rises are all part of the bosses deliberate strategy to slash costs in the ruthless pursuit of ever increasing profits. By refusing to negotiate a meaningful deal with the UCU they are deliberately jeopardising student learning for the sake of defending and perpetuating unsustainable staff working conditions.

Striking works!
Taking industrial action is often a last resort for staff, especially action which impacts students. But, when management are determined to pursue a strategy of attacks, strikes are the most powerful tool workers have to confront the bosses and remind bosses who really runs the university. No one would notice if senior managers didn’t turn up, but when research support staff, teachers, librarians, lecturers and other workers don’t work then the campus grinds to a halt.

Students organise to fight back
The UCU strike demonstrates the power of collective action. Workers on campus are taking collective action to fight against Tory austerity on their campuses.

Building student solidarity with the striking staff is crucial. But it’s crucial that students get organised themselves on campus. Students have plenty of gripes with the Tory marketisation agenda on campus, which is responsible for the overcrowding of our lecture halls, classes and libraries, as well as cuts to student services on campus.

That’s why Socialist Students is campaigning for students to get organised alongside the striking staff on campus.

First strike against the Tories
These strikes will be the first national action by a trade union since Boris Johnson’s election in December. The election results mean we cannot rely on the promise of a Corbyn-led government that will legislate for free tuition fees, improved working conditions and industrial relations. Instead, the election of a conservative majority under Boris Johnson poses a real threat to trade union rights. And with the Tories continuing full steam ahead with the marketisation of Higher Education; course cuts, closures and job losses are likely to intensify.

That’s why Socialist Students is calling for a ‘council of war’ on campus – drawing together everyone and anyone who wants to fight against further Tory attacks on campus – students, workers, campus unions such as the UCU, UNISON, and Unite, socialists and anti-austerity activists – to say we won’t take one more cut or attack against students or workers! Joint actions taken by workers and students during this strike could be the first step in developing such a united movement.

What you can do to support the strikers on campus;

1) On strike days, don’t cross picket lines and don’t attend lectures – visit for the full list of strike dates at your university

2) Join and support striking staff on your local picket lines – help organise student attendance at strike rallies

3) Join Socialist Students in campaigning on campus to mobilise student support for the strikers, including leafletting, speaking in lectures, and signing students up as strike supporters

4) Apply the pressure on your VC; this could be by sending the Socialist Students model letter, or organising a protest outside of the VC office calling for their support for the staff cause.

5) Talk to your lecturers to find out more about the dispute, and let them know you and Socialist Students support their strike

6) Show your support for the UCU on social media

7) Visit for campaigning resources

8) Join Socialist Students to continue the fight for free and fully funded education!

Leeds University – building solidarity with UCU strikers

Leeds University Socialist Students

Allen Haigh, Leeds University Socialist Students

This week at The University of Leeds, Socialist Students held its first stall on campus of the new term in support of the upcoming UCU strikes. After the general election result last term, we weren’t sure what sort of reaction we would get, but we were delighted by how receptive students were on the whole.

In an hour, we managed to hand out over 50 leaflets, and signed six new students up to find out more about Socialist Students. The main slogan we used when we were leafleting was ‘Resist the Tories on campus, support the UCU strike’, which was met with a highly spirited response. Despite the unfavourable outcome of the election, it appeared that rather than feeling despondent, students were invigorated and inspired to take action; we stressed that the UCU strike approaching (beginning on February 20th) presented the perfect opportunity for students who felt angry about the re-election of the Tories to get organized alongside striking staff and join the fightback against Tory austerity.

It was also heartening that we were approached by UCU members who expressed their gratitude for our support during the last round of strikes, and we exchanged words of encouragement in anticipation of what’s to come. Generally, students we spoke to were much more aware of the issues around why staff were striking, in defence of pay and pensions, compared to before they first went on strike, no doubt a testament to the mobilising potential of solidarity action.

In the coming weeks and months, Socialist Students will be building student solidarity with the UCU strikers, and discussing with students the need to also get organised alongside striking staff to build the fightback against Tory austerity on campus.