Scrap fees, refund rents and pay a living grant
Eva Papadopoulou, Southampton Socialist Students
Right up until the last minute, the university seemed to be endlessly optimistic about how we could return this term for in-person teaching. On 31 December I received confirmation from the university that all teaching would be moving online. Many other students have been entirely online for the whole academic year.
We were lured to the university by the false promise that we would be able to attend things in person. People have been paying rent to sit in their rooms and do online lessons. This is something that they should be able to do from home, and for free.
When they let us know that teaching was to be entirely online, an obvious next step would have been to tell us what is happening with halls. A recurring theme throughout the whole situation has been that we have to fight for every little thing.
In Southampton, they took our rent on the very first day back giving us very little chance to build support among other students for a rent strike. A lot of people found that their rent had gone before they even realised.
Ironically, this didn't happen to me. My maintenance loan had come through, but because it wasn't enough to cover the rent, the payment bounced. I ended up being an accidental rent striker.
We have taken up the issue with the Students Union, people have been fighting to get rent refunds for January and February. The latest communication from the university has said that "those eligible for a refund would be getting one", it said that more details would follow and that it would be for those unable to return to halls. We are still waiting for those further details!
The thing that makes me so angry, is that if we hadn't said or done anything, they would have just taken the rent for good, despite the fact that we are not able to be here. We have to argue and fight for everything.
We are making plans for next term, to organise a rent strike before they get a chance to take our payments, if the university doesn't issue refunds.
Lots of universities are giving different levels of refunds to students living in halls. But people are not just thinking about halls refunds, it's also about university cuts and redundancies. People are taking every victory and concession, but these leave a lot to be desired. What is the point of winning a refund just for this year, if next year I still can't afford my rent, even if there is no Covid?
Students should be able to live comfortably. We should get a higher maintenance payment, and rents should be capped at a percentage of this. There is the issue of tuition fees too. People are questioning why we are paying so much for what amounts to an online certificate. Tuition fees just make education less accessible.
Students are seen as consumers, they are not doing things in our interests, but to maximise the universities income. Schools and universities should not be run as if they were businesses, it's very simple
In The Socialist 20 January 2021:
Black Lives Matter