In order to protect students from privatisation, maintaining the recent rise in student activism is essential
With pressure rising on students from the increasing privatisation of education, a coherent student response has begun to emerge. Threats to many people’s ability to study and live has come in the form of the increase in tuition fees to £9,250, the possibility of the loss of entitlement to housing benefits for young people, the ever-rising price of student halls, and of course the political developments fueling the growing insecurity felt by many EU and international citizens in the UK. The reaction from student media and activists over the past few of years has been crucial in resisting the effect of austerity on our access to education.
For particularly low-income and international students, questions of where we’ll be able to live and how we can afford rent and food and fees in the coming years feel pressing. In the past few months student organising around issues affecting them have highlighted this feeling of discontent and urgency experienced across the country. However, raising the profile of our campaign is achievable. It’s possible to look to the occupation of a building owned by an Oxford college for use as a homeless shelter, the pressure put on universities around housing and tuition fees by free education campaigns, and the wave of rent strikes in university-owned accommodation around the country for reminders that media pressure and coordinated direct action are still tools students can use against waves of policies marginalising our needs and rights.
The housing situation for students at the University of Glasgow has been criticised repeatedly, particularly since the University’s infamous 2002 deal with Sanctuary Students which is the root cause of the compulsory annual rent increases in student halls such as Murano. While tuition fees are not an issue for local students in Scotland, the weekly rent in the cheapest Glasgow University halls has more than doubled since 2002, pricing low-income students out of housing in favour of making profit. In general, the experience of student tenants can be best understood by hearing us complaining over a pint about the mice, bad contracts, broken heating, and collapsing ceilings we’ll be going home to.
It’s frustrating to have little control over our living situations, because we as students, are relatively inexperienced and lack a solid understanding of housing law and the private rental sector. However, the problems we face have been met with collaborative and imaginative solutions; student housing co-operatives are being created all across the UK. Housing co-operatives are autonomous, sustainable, and democratically managed by the tenants, and can be desirable for people who want below market rents, a source of community, and the responsibility and freedom of running their own accommodation. While student housing co-ops have a long and storied history in the US, they are a more recent phenomenon in the UK. Currently, these have been successfully set up in Birmingham (the very first in the UK, which opened in 2014), Edinburgh, and Sheffield. Progress is underway for establishing more in Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds, and Glasgow.
Since October 2016, around a dozen students have been meeting to create an alternative to the current student housing options in Glasgow, and so far have viewed prospective buildings, attended conferences and visited other co-ops, applied for legal incorporation, received funding from the Glasgow City Council for training on governance and financial management, and have organised a fundraising show at Stereo for the 16th of March. While currently the Glasgow Student Housing Co-op is in the slightly ironic position of being a housing co-op without a house, it’s quick progress and the supportive nature of the co-operative movement make it a plausible near-future feature of Glasgow’s constellation of answers to the issues facing our diverse communities.