Why We’re Campaigning for Lower Rents at UCL

by Angus O’Brien, UCLU Halls Accommodation Officer

If you’re reading this, the chances are that you either live in UCL halls or have done so recently. It is likely, then, that you  know just how expensive it is – this year, the average cost per week of a room in UCL accommodation is £176, which is £7031.59 for the full year. This year, the very cheapest single room is £135.59 per week, coming to well over half the
entire loan available to students – if you are eligible for the full amount.

Yet six years ago, the picture was almost entirely different. In this time, rent has increased by an average of almost 56% – students are paying an average of £2484.94 more per year, and the cheapest room at UCL has increased by more than £40 weekly, from £94.01 per week.

So, are these rapid, high rent increases justified? The short answer is no – inflation has caused prices to rise by 19.8%
since 2009, and student income has only increased by 12% to 16%, depending on income bands.

Alongside this, UCL will be running a surplus of £15,779,000 from accommodation during this academic year, enough to fund a rent cut of almost 45% without affecting the running of halls.

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Winning affordable rent requires action! Last year we organised a tent protest to highlight rising rent costs and demand an end to the increases.

We as students of UCL have decided that enough is enough – UCL cannot continue to raise the rent in halls as it wishes, ignoring the rapidly decreasing level of affordability. Living in halls now is almost impossible without financial assistance on top of your student loan and maintenance grant (including the UCL bursary!).

UCL cannot pretend to offer equal opportunities to students from all sections of society when the sky-high cost of living constitutes an unofficial entry requirement based on your financial position.

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Occupying the Provost’s balcony to highlight UCL’s unaffordable rents and tell the Provost what we think about them!

Asking nicely won’t make UCL accommodation affordable – your help is required to run the campaign to hold UCL to account.

Join us for this year’s first regular campaign meeting on Wednesday, 7th October and for more information on how to get involved check out facebook.com/uclcuttherent

The Union has handed out information about students' rights in English and Mandarin Chinese.
Campaigns also involve a lot of communication, logistics and and letter-writing – that’s part of how the Hawkridge House rent strike was won.
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6 Ways you can fight for lower rent and better halls at UCL

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Securing affordable accommodation requires commitment, and it can be done! Here are a few tips for getting what we want around halls:

1. Join the Campaign Meeting

The best way to meet others at UCL who are passionate and committed to making halls affordable is to go to the year’s first open meeting of the ‘UCL, Cut the Rent’ Campaign. The meeting will be on Wednesday 7 October at UCL and will give you lots of info and advice on what we can do together to force UCL to end their exploitative ways. Find all the details here: www.facebook.com/events/964826676907267/ (There will even be free food and drinks!)

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Meet others who share your belief in freedom, justice and fair rent. The Campaign meeting is a great place to start!

2. Take part in your local Halls Assembly

Halls Assemblies are meetings at your hall where residents get together to decide for themselves how they would like their halls to be run. This is real democracy in practice – students making decisions for themselves about what changes they’d like see. This is an opportunity to unite with others in your hall around common issues and agree on how to improve anything from cockroaches to the lack of halls parties. Halls Assemblies can also be for making decisions about collective action such as writing letters to management and protesting poor maintenance and high rent. Many of the rules and conditions that UCL enforces are unfair – Halls Assemblies are where you and everybody else in your halls decide what to do about them.

Keep an eye out for your first local assembly. Anybody can call an assembly, so if you can’t find one scheduled for your halls you can establish one! Contact your Union Halls Officers to find out more details or help to organise a meeting.

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A Halls Assembly meeting in the Max Rayne House common room. Residents decided to demand better furniture and kitchens, and set up a halls committee to organise parties and events!

3. Become a Halls Representative or join your halls committee Halls Election

Each hall at UCL should have a union halls rep and a residents’ committee. These are students who are elected to raise issues with UCL management, stay up to date with problems around your site and take on organising work for actions meeting, events and parties. Being a representative in the students union or on a committee is an important and rewarding job and a great way to meet and speak to others at your halls, find out what their problems are and meet with the bosses to demand that they get solved. UCL also gives a budget to halls that have a residents’ committee (£5 per resident, or between £1,000 to £4,500 per hall) – this money can be used for social events, parties, equipment for the common room or anything else residents decide. Union reps can also get the opportunity to bring issues faced by their constituents to meetings with other union officers, union general assemblies or meetings with UCL management. If you’re proactive and like getting involved and solving problems and issues for fairer halls, you should stand for election!

To join the election to be a union halls representative just follow this link: www.uclu.org/election/autumn-elections-2015 If you want to be part of your halls committee, write to the Union Halls Accommodation Officer and to your local site managers. Nominations for union representative close on Friday 9 October – so make sure to register on time!

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UCLU is our students union. Becoming a representative is simple, click the picture for more information.

4. Get organising for improvements

If you experience things in your flat that you think should be improved (Lower rent, no pests, better kitchens, or anything else), don’t keep it to yourself! Chances are that others in your flat, your block or your halls will be experiencing the same problem. Don’t feel that you’re not entitled to make complaints to UCL management or demand better. Talk to other people in your flats and in your halls, follow what’s going on on your halls facebook page or ask others if they’ve had the same problems. Find out what issues are around and decide how you’d like to see it fixed.  Nobody likes pests! Is your fridge too small? Would you like to spend less money on rent? – Don’t accept poor conditions, and if you stand up for your flatmates’ problems you can count on them standing up for you.

5. Send your demands to UCL

Make sure to let UCL know what you want. Also make sure that you’re not alone in proposing improvements; remember – unity is strength. The more people who’re demanding change the more likely it is that management will be forced to take you seriously. UCL are experts at ignoring individual complaints and often dismiss students who write to them with. But when we get together me can make them listen – it’s thanks to collective strength and bargaining power that the ‘Cut the Rent’ Campaign has been able to win concessions in the past. Remember that you can always turn individual issues into collective disputes. If one of your flatmates has a broken window, you can speak up on their behalf and vice versa. Set up petitions and collect names of everybody who wants to see better conditions and lower rent.

Know who to contact at UCL and report service failures (report issues here) as soon as possible. If you don’t get a satisfactory response from your local site managers, write to their bosses. Don’t hesitate to send complaints or petitions to the Director of Student Accommodation (w.wilson@ucl.ac.uk) or the Head of Property (c.plank@ucl.ac.uk). Always contact your Union Halls Officers for advice and assistance.

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A dirty dead rodent found in a kitchen in UCL’s Hawkridge House. Nobody should accept pests like this and at Hawkridge over 100 people signed a protest letter to management for better conditions.

6. Get your flatmates involved!

The more people are involved in the campaign for lower rent the more likely we are to succeed! Talk to your flatmates and others in your halls. Get them to come down to the next campaign meeting or Halls Assembly, and take part in a protest action. It’s our right to have decent and affordable homes – in a city beset by a housing crisis that’s hitting not only students, this is something that concerns everybody! Lower rent at UCL will help break the power of the landlords across London, but it will only happen if we get out mates to get on board too. Remember that this is a struggle we can win if we stand together.

Contact the ‘UCL, Cut the Rent’ Campaign here.

What the hell are we doing? Defend Education Autumn 2015

We’ve planned loads of events for you, we know exactly what you wanted and we’ve delivered like never before. Below is a handy guide to your life for the next few weeks:

06/10/15: 17:00 – Jeremy Corbyn: What Next For The Left?

In this year’s first UCL Left Forum meeting, we will try to answer the questions: what does Corbyn’s victory mean and what happens now and how can we make sure that all the people who are excited about left politics stay mobilized and militant? Afterwards, we’ll decamp to the UCLU Labour social!

Where?: Institute of Education Bar S14

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/480458088800891/

07/10/15: 18:00 – Winning the Rent Cut – Open Meeting for the UCL, Cut the Rent Campaign

This meeting will focus on how a rent cut can be won – building on what has been learnt from the campaign last year and the successful action taken by the students protesting in Hawkridge House and Campbell House – and planning exactly the steps that will be taken in order to build an effective campaign from the residents in the halls upwards.

Where?: TBA

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/964826676907267/

08/10/15: 18:00 – Grant Cuts, Rising Fees and a Housing Crisis: UCL Defend Education Launch Meeting with Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners

The new Tory government is planning brutal attacks on students and education. They want to take maintenance grants away from the poorest students, hike up repayments on loans we’ve already taken out, and marketise universities while slashing funding for colleges – not to mention dismantling the wider welfare state while a cost of living crisis enforces rip-off rents.
But if we fight back together, we can beat them! UCL Defend Education is part of a movement campaigning to stop these attacks, and to win free, democratic education for everyone. Come along to find out more about activism at UCL, and engage in the debate over education, the priorities of society and what we as students can do about all this.

Speakers:

Clive Bradley, Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners (as featured in the film Pride)
Raquel Palmeira, National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts
Hannah Webb, National Union of Students Exec
Angus O’Brien, UCL Cut the Rent activist & UCLU Halls Officer
Tom Robinson, UCLU Welfare & International Officer

Where?: Kathleen Kenyon Room, Lewis’ Building

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/744561008982297/

09/10/15: 19:00 – Pints and Politics: UCL Lefty Welcome Drinks

If you’re interested in lefty political ideas, crazy things such as reducing inequality, saving the environment and fighting cuts to public services, or if you’re just a bit weirded out by what David Cameron did during his time at university, come for a relaxed evening and a chat about politics and campaigns on and off campus.
No background knowledge is required – we won’t be giving you a test or make you argue with someone over their interpretation of the twenty-fourth page of the Communist Manifesto. Probably best not to come if you’re a Tory, though.
Have a soft or not soft drink and talk about stuff – and don’t worry, we’re nice people.

Where?: Institute of Education Bar

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1472662343041562/

12/10/15: 17:00 – WTF IS GOING ON?: The Fight For Education

This meeting will explain “WTF is going on?”, with help from speakers involved in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the National Union of Students, and discuss ideas about what we can do to get involved in the fight for education.

Where?: Institute of Education Bar S14

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/543748365790984/

04/11/15: 13:00 – NATIONAL DEMO: Free Education and Living Grants For All

From scrapping Maintenance Grants, planning to raise tuition fees, slashing support for disabled students and making brutal funding cuts to Adult & Further Education; to keeping thousands of people locked up in detention centres and deporting international students to their deaths: the Conservative Government is attacking us from all sides, and it’s time to fight back.

Where?: Assemble on Malet Place

Event Page: www.facebook.com/events/1449378505377525/

5 Things the CUT THE RENT CAMPAIGN won in 2014-15

Why the Provost is getting worried…

And how we are turning the tide on rent and student housing:

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Over 1000 staff and students signed out petition for a rent cut in a week!

Since the student campaign to cut the rent (Check our facebook page) was launched at a halls assembly in Max Rayne House in Camden last year we’ve given management a proper shake-up and forced them to reconsider their endless rent increases for the first time. As the new term begins we’re already in action continue pushing for a rent cut across the board in UCL accommodation and for a democratic university in which students and staff have a say over how halls are run and rents are set. (Join our first campaign meeting here!)

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Whilst the main focus is a university-wide rent cut, it is important not to overlook the small victories that the campaign has won. So here are just a few things we have achieved over the past year that have improved conditions for UCL students in halls.

1. Compensation for over 200 residents at Hawkridge House

Organising protest actions at Hawkridge House meant that students who had been ignored by management for months over terrible living conditions caused by construction work and pests ensured that over 200 people there won a £132 compensation payment from UCL. Management didn’t give it freely, though. First we needed to assemble a large number of complaint letters after which residents threatened to not pay their rent if there weren’t given a fair deal. But thanks to our efforts, it worked!

(The dispute is ongoing and is still pursuing more a fair settlement from UCL the suffering caused by management)

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2.   Better Furniture for the Common Rooms at Max Rayne House and Ifor Evans Hall

This was the first win of the campaign and it came after we exposed the state of UCL’s most run-down halls. It may not sound as big as hundreds of pounds of compensation, but it did have a significant impact on the common room – and it was a vast improvement on the way things were before we demanded better conditions. The new couches and pool table meant that people actually wanted to hang out in the common room and improved the social dynamic of the entire hall. Again, this was not something that management wanted to give to us by themselves. We had to demand it!

www.thetab.com/uk/london/2014/10/29/horror-as-pest-infestation-strikes-ucl-halls

The free lodgers at Max Rayne (yes, this is a genuine photo from the hall!)

3.   Accessible Toilets at Ramsay Hall Common Room

For much of the beginning of last year, there were no accessible toilets by the basement common room at Ramsay Hall. As Ramsay is a popular party hall, this meant that wheelchair-users were not able to visit or join parties and use the toilet without a very undignified process of leaving to use one much further away that was accessible. Following our demands for improvement, there are now two accessible toilets by the common room.

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Ramsay Hall

4.   Exposing and Overturning UCL Management’s Illegal Use of Academic Sanctions

During the dispute at Hawkridge House and Campbell House UCL threatened students, who were withholding rent payments in protest over the state of their halls, by saying that they would not be allowed to re-enrol on their courses. Threats and sanctions like these were deemed illegal by the Office of Fair Trading in 2014. It turned out that UCL were still using these threats against all students who were unable to pay for their accommodation in time. Our campaign forced management to backtrack on their threats and to stop using such illegal actions against students rather then negotiate with us.

www.uclu.org/articles/university-forced-into-unprecedented-u-turn-on-sanctions

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Residents at Campbell House were unable to study for their exams because of UCL’s demolition works on Gordon Street, just behind their bedroom windows! They protested by refusing to pay rent!

5. Forcing the Provost to Accept that More Funding is Needed to Improve Halls

At the final meeting of the year between UCL Provost Michael Arthur and the UCLU Sabbatical Officers it was revealed that he would invest more funding into improving halls. After a year’s campaigning this meant that the top levels of management are finally beginning to shift under out pressure. Obviously, the Provost’s words doesn’t mean much. We shouldn’t celebrate until we see the funding go into improvements for students. UCL is infamous for not keeping it’s pledges in the past, to pay the London Living Wage to all it’s staff, for instance (spoiler – it still doesn’t!). If anything, this means that we need to keep up our pressure more then ever to make sure that, a: UCL live up to this pledge, b: they don’t make students pay more for the improved conditions, and c: they cut the rent!

– In other words, there is a lot of work ahead!

www.uclu.org/blogs/leah-francis/goodbye-and-update-on-last-welfare-wins#housing

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Moneybags Michael Arthur has a £360K salary. Cut his pay instead of raising the rent!

We’re looking forward to winning more improvements at UCL over the next year. Our campaign is completely student-run and everybody is welcome to join in and help us make sure that rents at UCL become affordable (as long as they aren’t bosses). If you’d like to be part of the action for a better and fairer UCL, don’t miss the first campaign meeting of the term on 7 October! (Event page here) See you there!

Join the campaign! – https://www.facebook.com/events/964826676907267/

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Together we can win!

And always remember….

Hasta la victoria!

REPORT: Student Rent Increases and Student Funding at UCL – The Facts

by David Dahlborn

Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Note on Statistics
  3. Increases
  4. Student Incomes
  5. Living Costs Surpassing Incomes
  6. Local Market Rates
  7. UCL’s Surplus
  8. Summary
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UCL’s Ramsay Hall (£8391.60 for a single room for 40 weeks).
  1. Introduction

Earlier this year UCLU published statistics that revealed the true extent of the cost of living in UCL halls in proportion to student incomes. But how much have rent levels and student incomes changed over the past few years? A quick historical comparison reveals exactly how much rents and student incomes have changed since before the tuition fee increase was declared in 2010.

  1. A Note on Statistics

All rents cited are based on statistics from UCL. The average rates for 2009 do not include halls that are no longer in operation in 2015. The dataset does also not include rates for halls recently acquired through the UCL-Institute of Education merger. The cost of living statistics cited are based on the UCLU research and have been updated to include rents from 2015-16. In 2009, undergraduate rooms were let for 37 weeks whereas in 2015 contracts last 40 weeks. Average cost increase calculations are based on the full academic year as there is no option for a shorter contract.

  1. Increases

Since 2009, the average cost for a single room at UCL has increased by almost 55%, or £2484.94 for the academic year. This means that the average room, which six years ago cost £4546.68 (£123 per week), now costs £7031.62 (£176pw). This is very slightly above the cost of a median-priced room, which stands at £6983.20 (£174.58pw) – a 56% increase from 2009. rent chart 6

The most dramatic increase, proportionately and in real terms, has been in Astor College, where rent has gone up by 96% from £106.19pw to £192.50pw – £7700 spread across an academic year. Although this includes added costs for catered dinners it means that Astor College is now one of the most expensive halls at UCL. Most commonly, rooms which cost around £120pw in 2009, now cost £174.58, or £6983.20 for 40 weeks.

Rent in the most expensive halls has increased less proportionately, but matches the average increase in real terms. Frances Gardner House, for instance, has risen from £5677 (£153pw) to £8103 (£203pw), or 43%, for the academic year. The two least expensive halls have risen slightly less in real terms (by £1945, to £5432.60), but match the average percentage increase.

Additionally, since 2009 UCL has discontinued its very cheapest and genuinely affordable rooms. These rooms have been replaced by several rooms offered in halls that fall within the most expensive range of UCL accommodation. In 2009 it was possible to rent a room at Clifford Pugh House in NW3 for £88.62pw. Rooms at UCL-run Holmbury St Mary in Dorking could be rented for half this price. In 2015 these rooms are no longer on offer and have been replaced by rooms at Woodland House in N7 and St Pancras Way in NW1 for a rent of £197.98 and £213.15pw respectively.

The most expensive rooms at UCL can now be found at Prankerd House, where the rent for a single room is £8710.80 (£218pw) for an academic year, almost as much as tuition fees.

  1. Student Incomes

The increase in student incomes from maintenance loans and grants during this period has been between 12 and 16% depending on students’ means-tested funding. In real terms, a student in London who in 2009 would have received £6928 for an academic year now receives £7788, in loans and grants – a real-terms increase of £860 for a year. As a result, the proportion of students’ income taken up by the average and the median rent at UCL has risen from about 53% to 72% for students from households earning less than £25,000 per year – an increase of 35%. For those from households earning more than £45,000 per year this change has been from 65% to 90% of their student income. This does not include further costs of living such as food and clothes.

At UCL the student bursary has been frozen for the past few years at £2000 and £1000 per year for students middle and low income households respectively.
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In comparison, the increasing cost of commodities according to the Consumer Prices Index has since been 19.8 percent. In other words, Student rents have increased at a rate more than double that of inflation while grants and loans are now worth less compared to average commodities.

  1. Living Costs Surpassing Income

Comparing the cost of living at UCL to grants and loans reveals that a considerable amount of rooms are unaffordable in the sense that no student could afford to rent them were they to live off their current rates of student income. This including the UCL bursary, specially intended to cover living costs. An overwhelming majority of rooms leave students from households earning more than £30,000 per year on a weekly budget of less than £30 once rent and other essential costs have been paid (not including travel costs).

At St Pancras Way a student from a household earning between £25,000 and £30,000 now has to pay more of the cost of rent and other essential living costs than their combined income from grants, loans and the UCL bursary. The same goes for four other UCL halls.rent chart 4For students from households earning between £40,000 and £45,000 per year, 19 out of 22 halls are unaffordable in the sense that their student income will not be able to cover rent and basic living costs. For students from households earning between £35,000 and £40,000 the corresponding number is 14 out of 22. The median income for a household with one child and two adults is £36,600. The median income for a household with two children and two adults is £44,200.

  1. Local Market Rates

Compared to the local median rent in the London Boroughs of Camden and Islington, where a large number of UCL rooms are located, UCL rents are considerably higher than market rates. Median market rate rents in these boroughs are £152 and £143pw respectively, which places UCL’s median rent of £174 in the top quartile.

From the perspective of what is considered ‘affordable rents’ (80 percent of market rates), only UCL’s very cheapest rooms qualify as ‘affordable’ compared to the median rent in the WC1 postcode area, and all rooms fail to qualify if compared to the median rent of Camden Borough. All UCL rents fail to qualify as ‘living rents’ (defined as not exceeding 35 percent of tenants’ income).

  1. UCL’s Surplus

Between 2009 and 2015 the surplus made by UCL from students rent, in other words the difference between the income received from accommodation and the running costs, increased from £5,300,000 to £12,285,000. It is also worth noting that this figure continues to climb sharply, as the surplus will run at £15,779,000 for the 2015/16 academic year. This represents an increase of almost 200%.

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Summary

Over the course of the past 6 years rents at UCL have increased at a rate that outpaces corresponding increases in student income both proportionately and in real terms. Furthermore, as a result, students across the board, now pay a greater proportion of their income directly towards rent than ever before. Once other basic living expenses have been considered only a small minority of rooms at UCL allow most students to spend more than £30 per week towards other costs while a substantial proportion of rooms do not leave students with any money left of their income whatsoever. UCL has also removed its most affordable rooms and acquired new rooms at the most expensive end of the scale while at the same time the College makes greater surplus off student housing than ever before.

Demo for lower rent! Solidarity with the UCL rent strikes!

ANNOUNCEMENT

UCL won’t freeze the rent next year: students who want to come here deserve to know!

UCL rents are far above the average maintenance loan given to people studying here. We want everybody to have an equal chance to attend university. For that to be possible we demand that all student accommodation be made affordable and that UCL should start by freezing its rent at last year’s levels and not raise them to new extortionate highs.

We also demand that UCL meets all the demands of the rent strikes at Hawkridge House and Campbell House and we express our solidarity with the residents there who have been cheated by the university and are bravely maintaining a rent strike in protest.

Portico rent strikeJoin us on this action against exploitation and for a better, fairer and more democratic university and accommodation system!

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Why the campaigns for lower rent in university accommodation must be part of a wider movement for free education – a response to Pi

By Angus O’Brien

In a recent Pi article, it was argued that sabbatical officers at UCLU should fight on behalf of the ‘UCL, cut the rent’ campaign, rather than pursuing ‘pet projects’ such as the campaign for free education. In doing so, Pi ignores some basic elements of the cut the rent campaign that has developed at UCL and understates the importance of the campaign, and similar ones, in the national movement for free education.

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Not a sabbatical officer in sight…

Firstly, it should be noted that Pi criticises some of the sabbatical officers who have been most prominent in the national organisation of the free education movement (including the march for free education in November last year), even though they have not been the only ones who have been involved in the creation of the campaign and the organisation of all of its actions to date. These officers are part of UCL Defend Education, a group on campus that, alongside fighting for better conditions for students (through the setting up of the cut the rent campaign, for example) has been centrally involved in the national campaign for free education. Secondly, perhaps to state the obvious, the majority of the organisation and running of the campaign has been done by students who, at most, are part-time officers in the union, with the majority holding no particular union role. Whilst Pi may contend that this is a problem, that the sabbatical officers should be the ones doing this instead, this would be to completely misunderstand how a campaign should be run. Instead of focusing on sabbatical officers who are not pulling their weight, the focus should be on the wider student population. It is likely that the majority of students at UCL have, either past or present, lived in student halls and have first-hand experience of quite how unaffordable it is. They should also recognise the consequences of year-on-year rent increases – that UCL increasingly becomes the preserve simply of those who can afford to live there, that entire sections of society are priced out of education. Maybe, instead of spending half the article, after a half-hearted attempt to fulfil what is expressed in the title, criticising sabbatical officers for their lack of involvement, the focus should have been on the importance of the campaign for the future of the university and why all members of the UCL population should be getting involved.

Look at this terrible student pretending to be a sabbatical officer
Look at this terrible student pretending to be a sabbatical officer

Finally, the reason the same students and sabbatical officers that have been involved in fighting for free education as well as the ‘UCL, cut the rent’ campaign is that the two are necessarily intertwined. Pi quite rightly states ‘you can’t have free education without affordable accommodation’, but does not recognise that the fight for each is the same fight. Both of these elements work in tandem to further increase the inaccessibility of education – £9,000 tuition fees put off those unwilling to take on an enormous burden of debt, whilst rocketing accommodation fees result in a situation in which many cannot afford the day-to-day living cost of going to university and for those who do, they are further burdened by the extra thousands of pounds going towards their accommodation.

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How bad does the affordable accommodation banner looks on the march for free education in Birmingham!

Pi’s belief that the campaign for lower accommodation fees is separate from fighting for free education reflects an essentially incorrect view of how any political campaign is won. Free education will not be won by the NUS; it will be won through organisation on a campus behind a national movement and local campaigns for more affordable and accessible universities, such as the ‘UCL, cut the rent’ campaign, both led by students and sabbatical officers.