Reportage. Students mobilized in Rome, Turin, Bologna, Perugia, Lecce and Palermo. The Union of University Students demands €2 billion from the government for the right to education.

Italian students protest high-priced rent and books with tent camps

“The government is asleep on the job, but where will we sleep?” reads the banner of the students encamped since Sunday evening in some 30 tents in front of La Sapienza University in Rome. The Vorrei un futuro qui (“I would like a future here”) mobilization of the Union of University Students (UDU) began on Sunday.

Protest initiatives against high rents and the shortage of affordable housing for students are also underway in Turin, Bologna, Perugia, Lecce and Palermo. Another 20 cities will join the protests in the coming days. UDU has invited Minister Bernini to “stop by” and see them.

They are calling for €2 billion from the government to support the right to study: “We urgently need an investment in public student residences, scholarships, rent funds, mental health treatment, and addressing the high cost of textbooks. This is not an unattainable figure: Italy invests only 0.7 percent of its GDP in tertiary education, compared to the OECD average of 1.1 percent.”

On its part, the ministry is again pushing the same numbers and data with no verifiable sources that they released during a webinar on June 12, speaking of over 8,000 new places, two-thirds of which are claimed to already exist, financed with the first part of the NRP for a total of €278 million. Of these about 8,500 new places, over 6,000 are privately owned. According to the ministry, 20 percent (1,260 places) should be set aside to ensure the right to study of disadvantaged students. But this is not an official requirement, and agreements on these places will have to be concluded between managers, right-to-study bodies and universities.

Another unresolved issue is that of rents. According to the decree establishing the University Housing Fund of €660 million (which could increase by €300 million if the European Commission approves the request), the rents which will be subsidized by 15 percent will be defined by parameters that are likely to push rents higher, such as “market values of reference” and the services offered, such as changing sheets, gyms or study rooms.

The paradox, moreover, is that thanks to the favorable tax regime, private developers of student housing would pay lower property taxes, which are used to finance public services, and they’ll be able to sell their private services at a high price to justify higher-than-market rents.

After being petitioned by the Tents in the Square movement, the City of Milan is also thinking about this situation: “A paradigm shift is needed. We’re thinking about defining a set of agreed services and a cap on ancillary costs. The issue concerns all social housing,” explained Housing Councilor Pierfrancesco Maran.

On Friday, the Tents in the Square movement discussed its proposals with Mayor Sala, including changing the criteria for subsidizing private student residences, increasing their property taxes, and expanding the share of places set aside for the disadvantaged. According to Maran, the proposals are in line with what the municipality itself is working on for the update to the Territorial Government Plan.

On the student issue, Maran spoke about the idea of “widespread student residences” throughout the city, with an investment of about €15 million to renovate 300 public housing units, now vacant because they are in a poor state of maintenance, to be rented out at rents of €250 per place for disadvantaged students on the right-to-study lists and €350 for the others.

The municipality has followed the ministry’s notice to find properties to be used as student residences, and the project could start as early as January. Regarding the management of these places, Maran is open to ideas such as the creation of new bodies, such as student cooperatives: “Let’s try to give a political signal in response to the mobilization,” he said.

In any case, the students don’t want to take away housing from those waiting on the social housing lists: “One can discuss housing that doesn’t meet the minimum thresholds for allocation” to those in need of social housing, said Barbara Morandi of Tents in the Square.

Speaking at the Assimpredil-Ance convention in Milan, Salvini once again announced a new housing plan, not for “those who have gone into tents” but “for all the middle class” that can’t access the private market or social housing. The first operational meeting for this plan should be held on Tuesday, according to the announcement of the vice-prime minister. But in reality, no plan yet exists.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!