150 students at the University of Sussex have begun a rent strike today, in an effort to force university management to waive third term rent payments in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The rent strike has been organised by a student collective – ‘Sussex, Cut the Rent’ – who state that they are protesting “the insistence that students trapped on campus pay their rent as normal in the midst of a global pandemic and government lockdown”. As it stands, the University has informed students that any outstanding rent payments will still apply if students remain on campus, however students who have returned home are eligible to have their rent waived. 

Sussex, Cut the Rent have authored an open letter to Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell, which will be delivered today as the strike commences. In the letter, they highlight that the University has insisted that students remain on campus and avoid travelling as per government advice: “As per the email sent to all students on Friday 27 March, due to the latest government advice, if you’re currently living in University-managed accommodation, you should not leave your accommodation to travel home.” They argue that this means many students now feel “trapped” on campus, with significantly reduced access to essential services, and only one partially subsidised meal per day.

What is more, many students have been severely financially impacted by the pandemic, losing income from jobs which have either been lost or furloughed. The letter reads: “The reduction in hours of casual employment, increase in personal caregiving roles, and in some instances, the issuing of redundancy notices is now adding unparalleled pressure to students, many of whom were already struggling to make ends meet.” Taking all these unprecedented factors into consideration, the striking students believe that third term rent must be waived to ensure fairness to students negatively impacted by the pandemic. 

Sussex, Cut the Rent have the following demands:

  • To cancel rents for all students left in Sussex rented accommodation for the rest of the academic year 2019-2020.
  • To reimburse the full third term rent for those students who have already paid. 
  • To ensure that students will be allowed to stay in their accommodation for the duration of the lockdown period.
  • To offer pastoral care to those on campus or in isolation via a helpline
  • To ensure that those remaining on campus have access to enough subsidised groceries or food during this period. 
  • To make empty bedrooms in Sussex rented accommodation available for any students who need it. 

On-campus accommodation at the University of Sussex costs up to £167 per week. Striking students are therefore withholding something in the region of £200,000 in rent fees from the University. 

Students who support the strike will take part in a ‘virtual banner drop’ later today, taking a photo of themselves with a poster saying “I support the Sussex rent strike”, which will be uploaded to social media en masse with the tag #sussexrentstrike.” 

The Badger approached the University for comment regarding their stance on waiving third term rent. A spokesperson said:

“In March, the University communicated to all student residents that rental payments for the final term would not apply for those who were no longer living on campus.  This cost more than £5 million, a significant financial measure for the University.   

Whilst all our teaching has moved online, approximately a fifth of our student residents have stayed on campus.  Providing these students with the many services required to enable them to live on campus and support their welfare at this very difficult time has and will continue to be our overwhelming priority.

Whilst respecting all the Government rules on social distancing and staying indoors, the University has ensured that essential services for all campus residents are running including 24/7 residential reception and security services, catering including a subsidised hot meal service for all campus residents, a supermarket, regular cleaning and maintenance services. 

University staff continue to visit each individual residence to check on students welfare.  Dedicated wellbeing services for Sussex students continues and students on campus are communicated with regularly to remind them of all the services available – and importantly who to contact if they have any questions or health concerns.

We do appreciate this is an extremely unsettling time for our students on campus and we wish their time at Sussex could be different.  We hope that our students know we will continue to do everything we can to respond to their needs.  The hundreds of staff involved in providing support services to them care passionately about making sure they are safe and feel comforted during these extraordinary times.”

You can read the open letter authored by Sussex, Cut the Rent here: Letter to VC

Image Credit: rentstrike.org

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