An Oxford University rent strike movement has joined a host of student collectives and campaigns across the UK in protesting universities’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oxford, Cut the Rent has said that if its campaign attracts the support of enough individuals, the proposed rent strike will begin in Hilary term 2021.

The campaign was founded because of many Oxford students’ perceived lack of support from the University during the pandemic. Many students have also protested that the UK Government has failed to intervene and protect students living in accommodation rented from universities and other providers.

Students linked to the Oxford campaign feel they have been given a different teaching experience to what the University promised and that they have been made to come back into residence unnecessarily. “Students were brought back to the university when it was obvious it wasn’t safe, deliberately for the acquiring of our rent,” one student told The Blue.

Michaelmas term 2020 saw large numbers of students have to self-isolate either because they had tested positive for COVID-19, or because they had been in close contact with somebody who had. Some students have reported a lack of food provision and mental health support from their colleges during self-isolation.

“In October, the university management lured us back to Oxford on the promise of a ‘blended learning experience’ involving face-to-face teaching,” Oxford, Cut the Rent has said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Yet upon arrival, thousands of us have been locked into our overpriced student accommodations receiving solely online education…the stakes are high and the situation critical – a rent strike is the way forward!”

The University has defended the decision to make residence in Oxford the default for students, telling The Blue: “While we understand that things are very difficult this year, and have been particularly challenging for students, we have put a wide range of measures in place to ensure our students can safely make the most of Oxford University life.” 

Nevertheless, Oxford, Cut the Rent have published a list of demands as part of its campaign. They include:

  • no penalties for rent strikers or students who wish to move out of their college accommodation amid the COVID-19 crisis
  • no enforcement of COVID-19 rules by police or security guards on campus
  • a commitment to allowing students to return home for Christmas with no requirement to return to campus after
  • a 30% rent reduction for students residing in Oxford
  • catering and mental health support for self-isolating students
  • greater support for international students, including those facing additional costs because of quarantine on arrival in the UK

The Oxford campaign has taken hope from the success of campaigns elsewere; in late November, the University of Manchester agreed to grant students a 30% rent reduction after sustained protests and the occupation of university accommodation by students. “The victory at Manchester shows that when students organise, we can win,” an Oxford student told The Blue. “By joining a national wave of rent strikes, we are campaigning for a rent discount this year within the wider fight for a university system run in the interests of students and staff”.