UCL has chosen the Carpenters Estate in Newham, a council housing estate adjacent to the Olympic park, home to 318 households who are now set to lose their homes and community, as the site for its proposed Stratford campus. Many have already been forced out by Newham Council over the last decade. UCL’s process thus far has included little to no satisfactory consultation with residents and the wider UCL community, including students, academics and alumni.
UCL’s students’ union has initiated a ‘public campaign to fight in solidarity with the residents against UCL’s current plans and to ensure that their demands are met.
At the end of November UCL students occupied in the Wilkins Building to protest against the eviction of the Carpenters Estate tenants. The UCL management in collaboration with Newham Council , controlled by the Labour Party with Robin Wales at its head, are determined to remove the 300 tenants. After a well attended demonstration on November 28th the Garden Room in the Wilkins Building was occupied and the following day several events were put on there with a Carpenters Estate resident.
However the occupation ended after university management gave notice that they would hold three students liable for £40,000 worth of costs The students were served with a court order and injunction, which singled out three individuals. The occupiers faced a court hearing on December 5th if they chose to stay in the room. The group felt there was no option but to end their occupation, in the light of the victimisation of individuals for what was evidently a collective act.
The management have behaved in a high handed way, refusing to enter into any dialogue with the occupiers, using CCTV footage and online surveillance, and then resorting to legal threats to intimidate and remove them.
UCL students will have to build up their campaign and involve more students in the ongoing campaign. The links that were created with the Carpenters tenants was a very positive development. Now further links with other tenants, residents and community groups in East London need to be strengthened, In addition the recent actions taken by cleaners employed by a sub-contractor to UCL over their wages and conditions, and by UCL lecturers over changes in management right to fire should be seen as part of the same struggle against this bullying management, more concerned with profit than with the genuine needs of education.
Carpenters Estate and the UCL- Tenants and Students Act
We reprint an except from the student action group Bloomsbury Fightback below
“There are several questions we have all been asking over these last few years: Where will we live? How will we be able to afford such expensive rent in London? How will we find jobs that pay enough to enjoy ourselves and live in comfort? When will we pay back our student debt? How?….
The student housing sector has ballooned from a fringe investment 10 years ago to a global market worth $200bn today with it becoming a ‘must have investment for most large funds’.
At the same time that we observe huge speculation on student accommodation and the ferocious entrance of private equity into the sector, we also see universities, now both sides of the Atlantic, issuing bonds secured against future earnings from tuition fees. The primary example here is the University of California which is presently in $13 billion debt as a consequence of various bond issues over the years and now, much as is the case with the sovereign debt of Greece and Spain, has to issue new bonds to ‘roll over’ the repayment of old ones. For institutions such as UCSC within the University of California the fact that there is no cap on fees, combined with the perpetual demand for college degrees (this is after all the only way one may enter the labour market for the overwhelming majority of ‘well paid’ jobs) means that despite their status as heavily leveraged institutions which for potential investors would not seem like a particularly good bet – they remain investment grade.
Subsequently the capacity of UCSC to raise tuition fees to whatever level it likes is advertised in every bond prospectus. Despite its high levels of debt UCSC is still seen as investment worthy precisely because it can charge what it likes, and as is meant to be the case, there are more applicants than places. This is not regarded as academic competition by university management however, rather it is seen as a situation of over-demand and insufficient supply, and hence the signal to further increase tuition fees until equilibrium and the ‘just’ price is found. Market equilibrium magistra vitae est.
We feel it important that students are in full receipt of these facts and are confronted with the inevitable outcome that the present cap of £9000 on tuition fees will not remain with us for long. Already we expect that the Russell Group of universities is lobbying to have it removed. Elsewhere those institutions such as De Montfort who, like UCSC, have begun to issue their own bonds will also need the cap to be abolished in order to guarantee the lowest costs for the debt-financing of future projects – a necessity in light of government funding being all but scrapped.
The present cap will soon go, and institutions as disparate as Cambridge and De Montfort are now issuing their own bonds. The university increasingly resembles little more than a debt factory. This is not glib comment, a casual and speculative refrain, but merely a statement of observable fact. Our future looks like Santa Cruz, only without the beach.
University College London have recently embarked on a £1 billion project – the extension of their London campus into Stratford. The fact that an institution which is failing to balance budgets in the short-to-medium term amid the most volatile period for higher education funding in decades is choosing to embark on such a large and unprecedented expansion is remarkable. Remarkable, but also of its time, in so much as it brings together many elements of the present moment and various catalysts for future crisis and present suffering. The dispossession of the land of those 300 people who still live there and the debt-financed investment in real estate and speculation on student housing, primarily for wealthier non-EU students. Social housing replaced by student housing funds run by private wealth managers, education no longer about capabilities and learning but merely a means by which to create returns from a relationship of debt.
UCL Stratford thus brings together many of the problems that you yourself face – impossible rent, debt, high fees. As a fee-paying student you are a cash cow – not just when you study, but even when you live in student accommodation. The institution does not serve your needs, rather you serve its need to service its debt and finance an ever larger number of managers who wish to ‘invest’ in land speculation and high-end residential buildings and perhaps even a few research centres. You may think of yourself as a part of the student body, but for the ‘bond guys’ and the more intelligent ones in university management you are simply thought of as what creates ‘returns’.
Universities are increasingly disposed to entering into what can only be described as PFI agreements with private equity and these ‘student housing funds’ to fund the construction of housing that students can live in throughout their university ‘experience’. We see this in the recent £1billion development in Cambridge that will see 3,000 new residential units for students – paid for in part by a £350 million 40 year bond – in partnership with private capital.
As UK universities increasingly employ financial instruments like those seen in California such as long-term bonds (which should really be called securities) students will be seen as no more than producers of the means of repayment, their debt the axis that produces the wheel turning for private investors seeking safe and strong returns and keeping the university afloat as public funding contracts to the point of an almost infinitesimal gesture that borders upon nothingness. This is your future as a debt, a debtor, the guarantor of returns for private equity and pension funds. You will be the assurance against loans that will pay for building facilities and housing that will mean more students who can pay more fees and more rent in order to secure yet more facilities and housing. And so on. All the time fees increasing in order to find equilibrium, rent increasing as there is quite literally nowhere else for you to live and the sons and daughters of the wealthiest families from across the globe are willing to pay.
UCL Stratford represents an active act of dispossession, taking people by force from their homes if necessary. It is pure, unadulterated violence. It has a direct relationship to your debt and the fact that rent in London is increasingly untenable for all but the very wealthiest individuals. Like the university, student housing is a debt factory. UCL Stratford, much like this whole miserable future on offer, can not be allowed to happen. If it does, if these projects and this system continue unimpeded, our lives will be miserable, brutish and shit – make no mistake about it.”