“University students since the start of the pandemic have been treated as cash cows, not just by the university and its chancellors but by the government as well.” These were the strong words Oisin Mulholland used to describe the ongoing rent struggle at Swansea University, when he spoke to “That’s TV South Wales”. As of the 22nd January, the University has still neglected to reach out to the growing rent strike group, despite repeated attempts from its co-ordinators to start a dialogue.
The movement, of which Oisin Mulholland is a coordinator, is currently in the process of withholding around £120,000 of rent money from the university, as the movement focuses on providing rent breaks for those students who are unable to return to campus due to the national lockdown. The movement’s main goal is for the University to offer tenancy cancellations for those students who are simply unable to return and are currently paying for accommodation that they are not using.
This at first glance seems like a simple solution; why should students have to pay for accommodation that they are not even able to use legally? This question is what has garnered such support for the movement, as they now boast members from both Gower College and Trinity St. David as well.
Nationally, there are over 57 student groups running similar rent strike operations, most notable being that of Manchester University. The strike in Manchester culminated in a building occupation and the university finally agreed to a 30% rent reduction for the first term, with talks ongoing for this current term.
This level of success is what has inspired other students to attempt the same and whilst their goals are lofty, the Swansea group believe that they can cause some positive change for the University community.
It must be noted that over the last few weeks, the University has spoken with the Student Union representatives and together have come together to put in place a rent reduction for those unable to live in their accommodation, from the period January 4th to February 15th, delaying the invoices for further months until the 6th May.
A Swansea University spokesperson told Waterfront: “Swansea University is offering a rent reduction to students in university halls (Bay Campus, Beck House, Singleton Campus and Hendrefoilan Student Village) who have been asked to remain at home and not return to Swansea due to Covid-19 restrictions until the end of term (26 March). Students who weren’t required to be on campus as part of their course but returned to live in university halls before the guidance changed can go home and will receive a rebate. If students decide to stay in university halls, they will not receive a rebate.
Students on placement and elite athletes will receive a rebate up until the point they returned to university-owned accommodation. The university’s dedicated Covid support service, MyUniSupport, is available to help with any queries and it offers a wide range of support measures for anyone who may be finding the current situation difficult.”
However, Mr. Mulholland’s response to this reduction was simple – “That’s not enough”. The movement are moving forward with their plans to withhold rent and are currently focused on spreading the word of the movement, to gather as much support as they can, until it is impossible for the university to ignore them any longer.
From a Student Union perspective, this rent reduction has been a success – they appear to have strengthened their relationship with the University and have made a difference to those affected and this cannot be ignored either. Their action has to be commended, especially when so many other university unions have avoided the issue. However, it is strange that thus far they have not spoken with the movement directly; it seems as though the movement is being bypassed entirely, which in the long term could cause the issues to escalate.
The pandemic has been and of course continues to be a nightmare for all of us and so it is no surprise to see movements such as this one gather so much attention. However, with it being impossible to protest together in force, it remains to be seen just how successful this movement can actually become.
For more information on the movement click the link: https://linktr.ee/SwanseaRentStrike
Alternatively, contact your Student Union at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image source: UoM Rent Strike | Twitter