So far I have withheld more than £1500 to protest the unfair rent charged by UCL, and I’m not giving in yet.
Along with 150 other strikers, I am demanding an immediate 40% rent cut for all UCL students, steps towards socially affordable rent and fairer treatment of tenants. We’ve been on strike for more than a month now, but UCL’s response has not been good enough. They’ve shown a lack of understanding towards our case and towards their students in general.
We want to fight and we want to change this, but we’re also all students. I chose to come to London from Poland so I could study a subject I love, confident that being at a world class university and living in central London would improve my chances of getting a job. I didn’t want accommodation to affect my studies, and UCL’s rent policy shouldn’t affect the quality of my education.
At home I knew London prices would be higher; there is expensive and then there is London expensive. UCL call themselves a global university but pushes away international students who don’t get maintenance loans or grants, get fewer bursaries, and can’t get an overdraft on a bank account. I had classmates who wanted to study here but knew it would be unaffordable. UCL may want to be a university for the world, but it’s becoming a university for the world’s rich.
I found cockroaches in my fridge, in the clothes in my wardrobe and in the sink – which doesn’t work anyway. We deal with faulty or poor quality appliances, intermittent heating and more, paying between £102 and £232 for the privilege. I could privately rent a similar room in the same area for less than I pay now.
As UCL own most of their property outright, there is no need for them to increase rent in line with market prices. I don’t see why I should be paying for UCL to build new accommodation, while mine is of such a poor standard. There has been no improvement in accommodation standards from last year, but prices have risen regardless.
UCL can afford to build a new campus in Stratford, and they can afford to build expensive, new, luxury accommodation that is out of reach and unaffordable for the majority of students. They can even spend nearly £3000 on branded glass water bottles that I’ve honestly never seen anywhere. Yet they still can’t afford to make accommodation financially accessible for all of their students.
We’re at the front of a fightback in London for affordable housing. It’s a fight that extends beyond halls, beyond students, and goes to the heart of a market in which people are being screwed over and pushed out of London. Our action will show that we, the residents, will not be pushed around. UCL is a university and not a landlord; it should remember that.
Aleksandra Tomaszewska is standing for Halls Accommodation Representative in the UCLU spring elections.