UCL students burn effigy in rent strike protest

UCL rent strike activists shut down Euston Road by burning an effigy of Vice Provost Rex Knight during a protest against high rent and censorship of student journalists on Thursday.

The protest, billed as ‘Rex Knight’s retirement party’, met in UCL’s main quad at 6pm, where activists scaled the Portico and let flares off for the second time this month.

They then marched along Gower Street and through the university, down Tottenham Court Road to the junction with Euston Road. There the effigy was set alight, blocking traffic across the junction, before protesters returned to the Quad.

Also read: Universities have no right to intimidate the student press

The large group of UCL students were supported by activists from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), NUS officers and #DontDeportLuqman campaigners from the University of Sussex.

NUS Vice President Shelly Asquith said: “People are here partly to support the rent strike, which has been going on for months now, protesting UCL’s expensive accommodation costs, but also because UCL have disgustingly threatened to dismiss a student journalist who leaked documents.

“It’s an amazing show of solidarity to see 200 people gathered in the Quad on a Thursday evening at such short notice, and marching around UCL’s impressive estate shouting ‘When they say rent hike, we say rent strike’. We’re fighting back.”

The rent strike began in January, and since then more than 600 students have pledged to withhold rent. Last month UCL agreed to lower or freeze rents in 1,224 rooms next year, but this did not meet the rent strike’s call for an immediate 40 per cent cut on all rooms.

Also read: UCL could evict me, but I am not afraid

They also denied threatening to evict rent strikers, despite many striking students receiving warnings that they must pay up or be told to leave halls.

Although 150 students are already withholding rent and 500 more will join them next term, according to UCL Cut The Rent, university management say only 37 have declared a strike. All students with overdue balances, they say, have been notified that they must pay or set up a payment plan.

Last week Rebecca Pinnington, president of UCL’s Pi Media society, was threatened with dismissal and other sanctions by the university, in response to an article she wrote about internal documents made publicly visible in an IT error.

The documents revealed university predictions that UCL would run into a cash surplus of millions of pounds from housing, as well as other financial details and forecasts.

Addressing the crowd, she said: “Rex Knight, shame on you. You’re a censorious overlord.”

emma.yeomans@londonstudent.coop Classics student at UCL; news fangirl at London Student. Student Publication Association's Best Reporter 2016.

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