It's so easy to assume that students are just being rebellious when something like this happens. The first option for many is to label it as an ignorant reaction against authority, yet no one seems to go into the specifics. UCL might not be responsible for everything its students endure; the government has its role, recklessly disregarding the welfare of people like myself. However, all I can see is my university maintaining a system which promotes a type of social cleansing in which you need to have money to come to such a prestigious university which should, in principle, only take in students based on academic merit.
My name is Joshua Clark and, amongst approximately 150 other students, I am striking: that is I am withholding my rent from UCL. Quite simply, UCL isn't currently looking out for its students; it sets rent which isn't affordable. The cheapest rooms they offer constitute a good deal more than 50% of the maximum maintenance loan any UCL student will receive, and those closer to the campus than Max Rayne will consume the entirety of most students' loans. Despite having what Andrew Grainger calls a "surplus" which amounts to just under £16m, and what others might call a profit, they perpetuate this discrepancy in rent rates.
As I said in my Skype interview for the Guardian recently, UCL can relieve the financial tension of so many of its students, thus part of the efforts of the strike include trying to force the perspective of the students onto UCL. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how good UCL is as a university, students will not continue to study here when they offer a total of 28 rooms in halls which can be afforded with the minimum maintenance loan. This figure comes from the official prices of rooms in Max Rayne House, which are £102.97-£232.40, the lower bracket of that referring to the 28 twin rooms available. It does frustrate me so I'm not ready to settle and I think everyone else on strike is showing this aptly; they're not willing to accept the injustice which is rife here at UCL. Although terms like social cleansing seem harsh, what else is it other than that?
I feel like I need to focus on two things which seem to be unclear both to UCL and to some outspoken members of the public. Firstly, the surplus which UCL keeps for the benefit of reinvestment. Secondly, UCL pricing its accommodation competitively with private sector rent. I agree to some extent that this surplus is necessary, but shouldn't UCL be using other sources to fund it? UCL, via Andrew Grainger, has in essence admitted that rent is being set with the intention of funding expansion from the profit or: 'surplus'. As a first year living in halls, I find this notion nothing other than unjust and I know I'm not alone in this regard: other Max Rayners have expressed such frustration. Equally, the "competitive rent" comment from UCL is something which motivates me every single morning to continue fighting for the campaign. UCL's accommodation prices shouldn't be determined by private sector factors, they should set it in direct response to the amount of money their students get, a fundamental notion of fairness which they are neglecting.
I'm not striking for my own benefit, I don't want rent for free and UCL needs to know that we aren't naïve students who can be swept under the carpet. In short, I have friends who can't get by with the money they have and working even a single job is sometimes unfeasible. I know for certain that I personally couldn't work a job and also perform in my studies, yet I have friends who have worked two jobs during term time and some of them continue to do so. I've forced myself to read the comments from the public in response to the Guardian articles and the BBC segment, the common argument of which loosely resembles the following: (a) we ought to just put up with it and work jobs, (b) don't study in London.
This kind of comment shows to me that UCL's insidious methods of operations have been so long accepted that they are now a banality, a commonplace which the public will readily accept, allowing students to be priced out of London and, in the process, priced out of UCL. Gone are the days, it seems, when your grades decided whether you would go to UCL or not: they're making the decision for us as they always were, but now it seems there is different set of criteria.