More than half of university students (52%) have become more politicised as a result of the pandemic, a survey suggests, as grassroot rent strike groups continue to gain support from undergraduates over the festive period.

The poll, conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS), also found that almost two-thirds (63%) of the 4,193 respondents did not believe the government was acting in their best interests.

Larissa Kennedy, the NUS president, said ministers’ failings were “politicising a generation” and prompting students to withhold rent payments across the country as anger mounts over online teaching and residency conditions.

“Whether it be the A-levels fiasco, the masses of student lockdowns or the financial exploitation students are facing, we are fed up and acutely aware that the problems arising are indicative of foundational flaws in our education system that this government has failed to reckon with,” she said.

In the largest wave of university rent strikes in four decades, at least 20 institutions, including Oxford and Edinburgh, will see students withhold accommodation payments when they return in January.

Many activists were galvanised by the success of University of Manchester rent strike campaigners, who were told last month all students would receive a 30% cut in rent – about £4m in total – for the first half of the academic year.

The group, whose action culminated in 15 students occupying university building Owens Park, say students are increasingly disillusioned with the institution’s leadership.

Hannah Virgo, one of its organisers, said: “The university’s handling of the pandemic has made it clear to students that their primary motivation is profit. I personally have definitely lost my respect for the Russell group. The overwhelming support we got as tower occupiers and as rent strikers show that this is felt across the student body.”

“Over the Christmas holiday the rent strike movement is only growing. We are helping local activists to organise in campuses across the country, and are planning to rent strike in January to get more compensation for the second half of the academic year.”

The NUS poll, which was carried out last month, also found 65% of students did not agree the government has adequately considered the difficulties that students may face.

Hall lockdowns, the prospect of paying for empty rooms while at home and little face-to-face teaching times were some of the main reasons behind the growing frustration.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic, supporting universities to provide a blend of online and in-person learning in a Covid-secure way.

“The government has recently announced up to £20m to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances, in addition to work with the Office for Students to enable universities to draw upon existing funding of £256m to help those facing financial hardship.

“We also worked closely with the Office for Students, providing up to £3m to fund the mental health platform, Student Space, which is designed to work alongside university and NHS services.”



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