Student demonstrators at University College London (UCL) have “declared victory” as a five-month long rent strike over costly accommodation bills has come to an end.
UCL said its offer to make available £350,000 for 2016/17 to fund accommodation bursaries for those students in most need of financial support, to freeze rent for 2016/17 and to reduce rent for some rooms had been accepted.
The institution said the new bursary is in addition to its existing scheme and hardship funds, adding that, in 2017/18, UCL will also expand funding for the accommodation bursary scheme to £500,000.
This is in addition to steps UCL took earlier in the year of freezing and reducing rents for its lowest priced rooms – around 30 per cent of all UCL student accommodation – at a total cost of around £1m.
Strikers, part of the "UCL, Cut the Rent" movement, welcomed the offer as a first step in acknowledging “serious concerns” regarding rent-setting policies. However, the group warned that, unless further action is taken, the use of “radical tactics” will continue until a social rent-setting policy is implemented at the university.
Angus O’Brien, UCL Union halls accommodation representative, said it was “unlikely” concerns regarding access to education at UCL, as well as across London and beyond, will be entirely addressed in the short term. However, he added: “This announcement is a welcome step forward in ensuring higher education becomes more accessible to students from all backgrounds.”
Rex Knight, UCL vice-provost, said: “From the outset, we have appreciated affordability is a big issue for our students, and a challenge for a university based in the heart of central London. The new bursaries we have announced will make a significant difference to all students in greatest need, and will help ensure that UCL remains an institution open to all.”
In May, action over student accommodation costs spread to various other institutions across the capital in what was labelled the “largest student rent strike in British history” by the Cut the Rent campaign at Goldsmiths.
Shelly Asquith, NUS vice-president of welfare, said the “inspiring” UCL campaign had made “incredible gains by cutting rent and establishing a new bursary system”. She added: “I have been very proud to have supported the campaign. Universities across the country should take note of this, and be ready for more students to take similar actions in light of increasing rents and profiteering in student accommodation. Rent hikes will lead to more rent strikes, and now we know that rent strikes win.”