Robinson College told students that "we are not in a position to offer accommodation free of charge or discount our rates"Rent Strike Cambridge

Members of the Rent Strike campaign at Robinson and Peterhouse both released open letters yesterday (11/03), which demand that “those having to pay unexpected vacation residence should be fully reimbursed.”

The letters have collectively amassed over 100 signatures since their publication.

Among the demands are: a 30% rent reduction for the 2020/21 academic year; for the colleges to promote the option of remote study for international students; and a commitment to “no COVID-19 job losses.”

At Robinson, an email to students emphasised, these fees are lower than term-time charges.

The letters reference that a “collective resistance has begun through the formation of Rent Strike Cambridge, where more than 500 students in over 20 colleges are pledging to withhold their rent for Easter term,” after the formal University-wide campaign was launched in November.

Alongside this, the Peterhouse open letter criticises the University for “[putting] profit before students,” and cites the “massively reduced facilities” and “fewer communal spaces” at the College as evidence for “exorbitant rent.”

Addressing the College’s returns policy, the letter states: “Peterhouse should also alleviate anxieties when students request permission to either leave or return to college by universalising the process, rather than relying on the arbitrary variation between tutors’ judgment.”

A member of the Peterhouse’s campaign told Varsity that the daily vacation charge is £16.50 per night. Robinson students will be charged full vacation rent of £18.95 per day over the Easter vacation, amounting to a total of £519 per student, according to emails seen by Varsity.

An email from Peterhouse’s Senior Tutor acknowledged that “a number of students [were] unhappy” about both staying in Cambridge and the requirement that they subsequently pay additional rent, and highlighted that students may be offered “limited” funds by the College’s Grants Committee at the end of the academic year.

A Peterhouse student told Varsity it was “disappointing” that the Google Form that has been used in previous years to apply for these grants has been taken down, and recalled talking to “panicked freshers” about the issue.

Meanwhile a member of the Robinson campaign told Varsity that the College “coupled this with a policy saying they would not police people returning home, essentially incentivising students to break the law.” An email to Robinson students earlier this month however stated that “the College will not be acting as a ‘policeman’ [...] and is not going to question your reasons for travel” over the vacation period.

Rent Strike Robinson consider the College’s response to be “completely tone deaf,” citing “the warden’s description of ‘tough and uncertain times’ [...] while Robinson continues to make the ‘times’ tougher.”

In response, Robinson College told Varsity: “The College strongly disputes the allegation that it has provided any form of incentive to break the law. The Warden’s message made it expressly clear that students were honour-bound to obey the law.”

The campaign also expressed concerns that students’ maintenance loans were not intended to cover living costs over vacation periods, and highlighted that “students who rely on Easter term jobs for income are either not at home to continue those jobs, or can’t work due to the pandemic.”

Rent Strike Robinson ran a “mass email drive” on March 3rd last week, in which students aimed to have “a hundred emails sent to college management” with the result that “they’ll be forced to confront the student anger at their decision.”

In response to the email drive, which started at 3pm, an email was sent by the Domestic Bursar to students just after 4pm stating “we will respond to [the concerns] in due course” and that “it serves no purpose for individuals to add to [the original] message.”

A further email was sent to students on March 5th clarifying the details of the rent policy and signposting support for students facing financial difficulties, including full details on accessing this support. 

The email also addressed the reasons why the College is charging rent over this period, stating that “we are not in a position to offer accommodation free of charge or discount our rates,” for reasons including the fact that the College does “not have a limitless amount of hardship funding.” The College's financial statements for the 2020-21 academic year a total income decrease of 14.3%.

The email also highlights that the College “liaised with other Colleges to clarify their policies on vacation rent over Easter,” which are said to be “similar” since the College was “not aware of any [other Colleges] offering Easter vacation accommodation for free to all undergraduates in residence.”


Mountain View

Controversy over proposed Sidney Sussex rent increase

Since then, the government announced (05/03) that a travel exemption would be put in place for students over the Easter vacation, whereby students can travel home once between March 8th and April 29th “where it is necessary.”

Professor Graham Virgo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University, said in an email to students on Tuesday (09/03) that students should exercise caution when travelling abroad though as they “may not be able to return” and would subsequently need to “seek permission for remote study for the Easter Term.”

Despite this announcement, a member of Rent Strike Robinson told Varsity that “we’re going to continue campaigning on this issue, as we feel it is irresponsible to incentivise students to stay home when the government advice is to stay at university, and because we don’t want the disproportionately vulnerable students who returned for Lent to be forced out of Cambridge.”

Peterhouse was contacted by Varsity for comment.