(Featured image: Students demonstrate in Alexandra Square during the 1974-5 Lancaster University rent strike.)
Following a second negotiation meeting this morning, the organisers of the rent strike have revealed that Lancaster University is "considering" raising its £400 "goodwill offer" to students who have not been able to access their accommodation due to the pandemic.
However the University has yet to make any solid commitments, and does not appear to be planning to offer anything to student renters currently stuck on campus. At the meeting, the Deputy VC revealed that University management had agreed additional improvements and investment in student support services, but the details of this are still unclear.
This development in the rent strike negotiation process comes as the University has advised students that on-campus teaching for most students will not resume until 8th March at the earliest, the penultimate week of this term. Unless the University announces a 80% rent cut to replace the current £400 offer, students will still be being expected to pay for rooms they're not legally allowed to use.
Speaking to Spineless after this morning's meeting, rent strike organiser Luke Dixon-Murrow said: "We were happy to hear from management that they are actively discussing plans to improve both the University mental health services and the Student Hardship funds. We were also encouraged by signals that the £400 'goodwill offer' could potentially be increased in the coming week."
But he was resolute that the strike will continue until the University commits to further progress: "We are really disappointed that the University has seemingly made no effort to meet our demand of reductions for students currently on campus. These students are being made to pay for services they are not receiving and experience a higher cost of living due to the difficulties of securing food deliveries, meaning they have to rely on the expensive on-campus shops. The rent strike will continue until this demand is met. We are considering a range of potential actions in the coming days to pressure the University into this. We urge every student to continue to withhold their rent."
Any increase to the £400 rent cut currently on offer will require the approval of University Council, and is understood it will take about a week to be finalised. Among Council's members are a former spy with financial links to Russian organised crime, a former Tory minister with historical links to a homophobic "gay cure" group, and a former Principal of Aberdeen University, still embroiled in a six-figure financial scandal. Spineless has full confidence that these individuals will have students' welfare at heart.
In contravention of LUSU policy, the "student representative" position on Council is not elected, rather informally appointed from within the sabbatical officer team. It's not clear which sabb will fill that role following sabb Bee Morgan's resignation this week.
Spineless has so far called the University's response to the rent strike "deeply flawed", "disingenuous and blunt", and "insulting". But why take our word for it when the University itself republished a letter on the Student Portal from Michelle Donelan, the Tory Minister of State for Universities, which contained the following paragraph:
I welcome the decision from many universities and accommodation providers to offer rent refunds and I am encouraging all large-scale private accommodation providers that have not yet done so to join them and offer refunds or other financial compensation. We are asking all providers of student accommodation, including universities, to make sure that their rental policies have your best interests at heart. We also urge them to communicate their policies clearly and be fair.
Perhaps it's time for the University to catch up with reality and start following the government's suggestions?