Students who return to university accommodation will break the law unless they can provide a reason that means that they are exempt. This has led to many students staying at their home address but remain liable for accommodation contracts that both the government and universities encouraged them to sign.
This comes on the back of having to pay full price tuition fees for substandard online learning. At the University of Leicester, the Students’ Union (SU) is leading a tuition fees campaign. Following the example set by many other universities; Leicester students are organising a rent strike.
Louise Manley is leading the fight to represent students calling on the University of Leicester to treat them fairly and put well-being before profit. Surprisingly, Louise is a first-year student, but this didn’t stop her from taking the initiative and starting this campaign.
Alongside her fellow politics students, she started the uni rent strike group, after being inspired by students by other universities efforts. “We thought that there is a lot of injustices going on at this university, we aren’t particularly happy with it, it is not what we signed up for, we need to start something ourselves.”
The SU has proved a useful ally, providing lots of help; however the group has been frustrated with the university’s response. “We have been sending off these emails, but it seems to be that we are getting the same box email every time. There is no care or etiquette going into it, and that really disappoints me that the university seems to be so out of touch.” This added to the inability to get in touch with anyone from the university, who has the power to accede to their requests.
“really disappoints me that the university seems to be so out of touch.”
The university has previously announced a rebate on their accommodation but is yet to give detail as to what that means. Louise believes this is not good enough as some students are not living in their accommodation. Students living in university accommodation, are not getting what they paid for, as they lack access to facilities that come with the accommodation.
The group has had 250 students fill out a form about their accommodation situation, with many students upset at their conditions at the university. They have received feedback over the bus service, where students have paid for it, but are receiving a severely reduced service. “Students are not seen as humans, they are seen as a way of taking money, more like someone to pickpocket, and no one consents to be pickpocketed.”
Louise has faced problems with her accommodation “I had to move rooms because I had damp and mould in my room. I know someone across the road who had to be evacuated because their window ledge was filled with black mould, which is something you must have chemicals to remove.
“There have been students from a few places like opal court, who have filled out our form, saying that they filled out 6 or 7 maintenance forms, yet their taps aren’t working, or they aren’t getting hot water.”
“I know someone across the road who had to be evacuated because their window ledge was filled with black mould”
These poor conditions are compounded by the latest lockdown, which is causing an epidemic of mental health problems. “I have seen a lot of people breaking at the seams.” Support from the university seems to be lacking, with Louise meeting only one student who has accessed therapy, due to their mental state detrimentally affecting their academic performance.
Louise has found the lack of social interaction challenging, and it has affected her ability to study. “Before university I was a social butterfly, and I miss going to campus, the excitement from that, so it has caused me to procrastinate quite a lot, and I keep on crashing. I feel like I am capped, I feel like I can’t progress a lot, because I can’t go and see people.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “We are conscious that this has been an extremely challenging time for our students but we remain committed to providing the best education and student experience we can during these uncertain times.
“We continue to lobby Universities UK (UUK) and Government seeking a fair outcome for all students and universities who have been financially impacted by recent lockdowns.
“We are aware that the University’s sports centres have undergone a number of closure periods. We are reflecting this by offering proportionate gym membership refunds to students […] The David Wilson Library remains open in line with current guidance.
“Common rooms and study areas in University accommodation, which are cleaned regularly, are available for households to use to enable students to continue to study effectively.
“The University is also not aware of any residents who have been evacuated due to mould, nor are we aware of delays in resolving maintenance issues.”
They added “We take the mental health of our students seriously and have provided a COVID hardship fund available for students struggling to make ends meet.
“The University has also recently partnered with the NHS, to provide all students with free access to a confidential, online mental health support community, run by trained professionals and run 24/7. The service, ‘togetherall’, can be accessed here.”
For issues with maintenance contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To see what support you can get visit Life in Lockdown pages
Toby Cray is a second-year journalism student at the University of Leicester. You can find him on Instagram here: @toby5.c