Lancaster’s student rent strike, which saw thousands of learners organise remotely to challenge the University’s insistence that they pay for campus rooms that they weren’t using, ended last week. The Director of Finance reported, at the Vice-Chancellor’s all-staff meeting on 29 January, that 2,000 students had accepted management’s initial offer of a £400
goodwill payment; this offer was recently doubled to £800, which led to the decision to call off the campaign.
subtext congratulates the organisers, and those taking action, for once again highlighting the consequences of Lancaster’s student residences contract with UPP. As the Vice-Chancellor noted at the all-staff meeting, the University is liable for the rent, whether there are students in the rooms or not.
In a special report, one of the strike organisers gives their own account of the campaign.
Visitors to campus in recent days may have been rather baffled by the amount of pasta being handed out to passers-by. Those in the know, however, may well have been pleased to see some protest activity from the Students’ Union around an issue that clearly matters to students. The issue in question? On campus rents are set to increase by 4% – up to £249 per year – and LUSU officers highlighted the real terms of cost of this by setting up a stall with £249 worth of pasta (although we do wonder if £249 worth of beer might have been more relatable).
In response to the uproar, the University released a very brief statement, citing the usual ‘increasing costs’ and the fact that we consistently are voted ‘Best University Halls’ in the National Student Housing Awards. And, incomparable though we are, the usual opportunity to point out that we are better than our comparator institutions (which are, of course, chosen by us and are subject to change). Oddly, the statement does not offer the usual defence that comes up, which is that our agreement with UPP requires us to increase our rents above the rate of inflation year on year.
The institutional memory at any university is short, and by now the vast majority of students who were around in the 14/15 academic year will have gone in an almost complete change of blood. That’s a great shame, because it means that few are aware of the almighty year long war that raged between the SU and the University over a 2% rent increase – a series of protests that culminated in the first occupation of University House in over 2 decades, and forced the University’s hand in getting back around the table with the SU to agree on how to approach rent increases in the future.
It was ‘agreed’ during these negotiations that there would be greater student representation on any bodies that discuss and implement rent increases, as well as greater consultation. That the SU has responded so viscerally to the rent increase suggests either that they weren’t consulted, or that they weren’t listened to. Indeed, the response from the SU should be commended, given that such information has historically been imparted to SU officers on a ‘commercial in confidence’ basis. LUSU’s ‘Pay More, Get Less’ campaign highlights an increase in the cost of living, as well as a decrease in the block grant that they receive from the University to provide services to students. Couple this with the 2% cuts that all non-academic departments have had to make, as well as the multi-million pound risk that Lancaster is taking by involving itself in the ridiculous Gary Neville University and the costs of the campus redevelopment, and the message is clear – the University’s wild spending on vanity projects and commercial adventures is being placed on the shoulders of students. The students are Lancaster’s biggest single source of income, with around 47% of income coming from tuition fees in the last year for which records are available (15/16). This percentage has steadily increased over the past years, but perhaps the continued expenditure on projects that seem to do little to improve things for students shows that top table is rather unashamedly ignoring this.
The subtext collective wishes the SU well in its campaign, and we encourage our readers to involve themselves in it: https://tinyurl.com/y7umspov