Credit: GG Photography and Illustrations manager Allison Campbell (@allijcampbell)

Students organise against the University’s mishandling of Covid-19

By Joanne Krus

Students across the country have been organising campaigns against rent and inadequate support from universities.

Hundreds of students across the UK have been told to self-isolate since starting university only two weeks ago. Last week, the University of Glasgow revealed that there had been an outbreak of Covid-19 among students residing in student halls in Murano Street and Cairncross. On Thursday 24 September, over 120 students living halls had tested positive with 600 now in self-isolation. 

The news of the outbreak has been met with anger and frustration from both students and the wider community, many of whom believe the situation in student halls is being mishandled. Multiple student campaigns have sprung up in an effort to support students during this situation, from organising rent strikes to making collective demands for better conditions at university. 

One halls resident has started a twitter account, Glasgow Uni Rent Strike, campaigning for a rent strike which currently has over 1100 followers. They released a statement saying: “Glasgow University did not plan for the impact of coronavirus when moving us into our halls of residence.

“As a result many students have contracted the virus, while many more deal with the mental effects of being isolated a long way from home. We recommend that all students stand in solidarity by withholding rent payments, until the University works out a method to reimburse us for any negligence.”

The University has since announced that it will give students a four-week refund on rent and £50 stipend for students in halls; however, many students still believe that the University needs to do more to support students. 

Several student societies, including the Glasgow Solidarity Collective, Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition, Glasgow University Anarchists, Glasgow Marxists and Extinction Rebellion have come together to make demands to the University to do more to protect and support students in halls.

They have made nine demands to the University of Glasgow and Universities Scotland: 

“NO expulsions for students withholding rent; they were given false confidence in the health and safety standards of the halls they booked into and should not be punished for a reasonable response! 

We demand that Glasgow University condemns the Yellow Card Red Card penalties agreed by Universities Scotland, and this should become an example for universities all over the UK. Punishing students will not stop the outbreaks.

“Full priority mental and physical health services need to be made available to students in quarantine, regardless of whether they have Covid or not. Open the hardship fund up to every student in quarantine and expose the shameful year-long waiting list for mental health services.

“We demand that online learning is made suitable and accessible to disabled students and that these standards are set through regular contact between those students and the University’s Disability Service!

“All students in halls need the right to terminate their contract early; if they don’t feel safe in university accommodation then they should not have to pay to leave.

“We need a cap on rents; rising rents are pricing working-class students off-campus and creating a knock-on effect of gentrification. For rents capped at 1/3 of SAAS/student finance payments.

“Testing and tracing must be increased around campus! Routine testing organised by the university with oversight from students and staff.

“Full PPE and testing priority for ancillary staff; accommodation cleaners are in just as much danger as campus residents, the university must support them.

“Full solidarity between campus staff and students, we all need to struggle for a safe university to learn and work in! For an inquiry into the mistakes which caused the outbreaks, led by democratic committees of students and staff!”

The University as yet to comment on or respond to these demands. 

The calls for action go beyond Glasgow, with students from Stirling Students Tenants Union from the University of Stirling also signing these demands. The University of Edinburgh has also been accused of negligence by students, who have published their own demands asking for transparency from their University. In their letter, they accuse the University of failing to meet their promise of providing a “collaborative learning experience” and say that the quality of their education has diminished. 

They state: “Many students have only received recycled audio or video lectures, and sometimes entirely asynchronous online experiences lacking tutorials, seminars, and live interactions between peers and professors.“

The letter also includes a list of demands for their University to meet including allowing students to receive a reimbursement on their student fees if their education has been disrupted, for classes to have the same number of contact hours that was advertised when students took the course, on-campus Covid-19 testing sites, and for all students and faculty staying in University accommodations to be granted free access to the higher bandwidth which is needed for online classes but is currently behind a paywall. 

The National Union of Students has also teamed with Rent Strike, a student network campaigning against high rents and poor conditions, to advise students on their legal rights when going on strikes. 

Organisations outside of academia have also offered support to students renters. The tenant union Living Rent has encouraged students to get in touch, whether they need help organising or whether the University is making it difficult for them to get out of their student hall contract. They have also started a Facebook page titled Student Tenants Organise, with the aim to make collective demands for all students in Scottish universities. 


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