PRICE HIKES AND RENT STRIKES – SOLVING THE UEA ACCOMMODATION CRISIS

By Lewis Martin

Whist chatting to a friend last week I found myself looking at the price of accommodation at UEA for the next academic year. I found that the prices are set to rise yet again, with the price of the most expensive undergraduate accommodation reaching over £5800 a year, or £153.30 per week if you want your shocks in smaller weekly doses rather than one big lump.

This didn’t come as much of a surprise. UEA has increased the cost of its accommodation yearly for as long as I can remember, with an average rise of 3.4% per year. UEA is looking to increase its student intake and renovate and expand the campus as part of its ‘Vision 2030’ program, and it has turned to accommodation as the primary way to raise the required profit over the coming years, at great cost to students.

Next year the cheapest bedrooms will be the much ridiculed bunk bed rooms. These rooms will be the same size as a standard room in Constable Terrace or Nelson Court, which I know from experience are pretty small rooms for one person, and are being advertised only as ‘shared rooms’. Whilst these rooms aren’t completely new to UEA, they represent a new low in trying to cram the most students into one place without the slightest care for their needs or even their privacy. I expect that for the most part the occupants of these rooms will be students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who need to find the cheapest places to live.

the university is viewing every person that comes through its doors not as a human being who needs to be looked after and appreciated, but merely as a series of numbers

These students won’t want to sacrifice their privacy in order to be able to afford to come to UEA, but they’re not being given a choice. UEA is, once again, putting profit before its students. We have seen this many times in their actions of recent years, from cutting modules from courses to putting lecturers on part-time, zero hour contracts, ensuring the institution can skim plenty of surplus value off of their experience and knowledge. All of this is completely unacceptable.

UEA has long claimed to be a successful university, always referring to its high placing in university rankings or in student satisfaction surveys. Some may think that being top of a student satisfaction survey is key to the development and success of UEA, but I couldn’t disagree more. By putting profit before students, the university is viewing every person that comes through its doors not as a human being who needs to be looked after and appreciated, but merely as a series of numbers which must continue rising every year. Why? To meet their ambition of being a successful business, of course. Being a successful place of learning comes in a distant second.

If we want the Vice Chancellor and his underlings to listen, we have to hit them where it hurts: directly in their pockets. I’m a passionate believer in rent strikes (indeed, the first article I ever wrote for this publication was about them). Don’t listen to the naysayers. Rent strikes have been proven to be successful, with UCL students achieving the goals of their strike. I believe similar action at UEA could be very successful.

ucl

UCL Rent Strikers. Credit: Evening Standard

We’ve tried all the ‘traditional’ methods of stopping the rent increases, from lobbying to petitions, but it has fallen on deaf ears. UEA management smile politely, take in whatever evidence of student anger we give them, and then bin it behind closed doors. Only by hitting their wallets will we make them sit up and take notice.

If around 100 students refused to pay their rent for a semester, it would cost the university over £150k (based on their average rent costs). It would be a bureaucratic and public relations nightmare to try and evict these students from their accommodation. Students would be in a very strong position to make demands and extract concrete change.

There is a real need for serious action like this to happen at UEA. If none is taken, by 2020 the single campus rooms will cost more per semester than students in the lowest bracket for student loans receive, forcing these students into the grip of the private rental market and all its dangers. If those who wish to see UEA rise up the league tables for satisfaction are serious about wanting better for students, then they need to start backing and planning for this kind of action. Otherwise, before we know it the UEA accommodation bubble will burst, and it will be made painfully clear just how meaningless their satisfaction rates really are.

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