Student accommodation
Students are struggling to stay afloat with the skyrocketing cost of rent, prompting protests across the UK. Source: Shutterstock

UK university students are no longer willing to sit back and take the skyrocketing cost of student accommodation. The steep incline has galvanised students into action, prompting rent strikes to spring up across the country.  

According to The Guardian, this Autumn will see the launch of the Cut the Rent campaign, students’ response to the eye-watering cost of student accommodation. This includes Caitlin Ghibout, a student at Durham University.

The second year anthropology major said she wants to challenge her university over the fact that to make ends meet, many students are forced to work part-time or ask their family for help. She receives the maximum maintenance loan for students from Scotland, and would not have been able to study at Durham if it weren’t for her parents’ support. 

“Rents have been rising significantly every year since 2010,” she told The Guardian. “It’s got to the point where, if you were looking at which university to go to but didn’t have much money, you wouldn’t be able to come to Durham.”

An uprising 

Rent Strike, an activist network, called for a national day of action that took place yesterday, October 16, “against the student housing crisis, against the rent we have to pay, against the dire conditions we’re forced to live in, against our universities who have exploited and attacked us”.

Its website notes that, “Cut The Rent campaigns have sprung up everywhere from Aberdeen to Sussex with the most notable being UCL. These campaigns aim to make on-campus accommodation more accessible for the economically disadvantaged, the marginalised and the physically disabled.

“For example, at Sussex University the average cost for a room is £125, which gives you access to poor quality accommodation often plagued by damp and rodents. For the same price in Brighton, the second most expensive city in the UK, you can get a double bed, a nice kitchen, living space and a garden.” 

Unaffordable student accommodation negatively impacts students 

A report from the National Union of Students found that average rent levels accounted for 73 percent of student loans last year, up from 58 percent six years ago. Other key findings include: 

  • In 2018/19 the overall average weekly rent stands at £147, an increase of five percent on last year; 8.9 percent from 2015/16 figures; and 31.3 percent since 2011/12. 
  • The average for the private sector is £153, 9.3 percent higher than the university mean of £140.
  • The average annual rent for 2018/19 is £6,366, up six percent on the previous year and by a third on 2012/13. In London, the average is £8,875, while it’s £5,928 for the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile, a National Student Accommodation Survey 2018 by Save the Student found that 44 percent of students struggle to keep up with the rent; 45 percent say the cost of accommodation impacts their mental health; while 31 percent find their studies are affected too.

In terms of location, London remains the least affordable student city, with prices continuing to climb, according to the NatWest Student Living Index 2019.

National Union of Students (NUS) Vice President, Eva Crossan Jory, stands in solidarity with student activists.

“Myself and NUS fully support students in taking action up and down the country and calls on the government, universities and the private sector to listen and take serious action,” she said.

“Over the coming year we at NUS are going to be creating and launching a swathe of new resources, lobbying through all our national networks alongside allies on this issue and working to provide practical, on the ground support to your campaigns at the grassroots as much as possible.

“Whilst the student housing crisis is substantial, there is hope! Our Accommodation Costs Survey also found that providers’ greatest concern for the future was now affordability. This shows that through collective action we have forced the student housing crisis on to the decision-makers’ agenda, now we just need to make them act!”

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