Students are planning rent strikes as institutions hike accommodation charges by more than the rise in the student loan.
At Durham University, where rents next year will rise by £200 on top of inflation, the students' union has passed a motion to support students who strike. Students say the rise could be up to 11.6 per cent, and could be part of a five-year schedule.
Hundreds of students attended a rally in the city on Tuesday. Union president Eddie Moore said: "The fact is that students simply cannot afford to pay another £0 next year, let alone that much again every year for five years."
But a university spokesman said: "There are urgent needs for improvements in the colleges that we have put off."
Sheffield University is planning a rise of 3.95 per cent. Junior common rooms and residents' associations oppose the plan. Andrzej Nowakowski, president of the University of Sheffield Union, said that rent strikes and non-payment campaigns were already being planned.
He pointed out that student loans would increase by 2.4 per cent next year. "It is completely unacceptable to raise rents above this basic yardstick of living costs," he said. But the university said the increase was similar to that in other institutions.
Cambridge University student president Mat Coakley expected a repeat of last year's rent strikes.
He said: "The attempt last year was to put through on average a 5 to 6 per cent real-terms, increase each year for five to six years. That is now going ahead in some colleges. The colleges that went on rent strike got better deals than those who didn't."
Deals have been struck in most colleges but about a quarter were still in negotiation, he said. "There is a likelihood that there may well be strikes if colleges do not meet students' concerns, primarily on access."
Students at several London institutions are also unhappy about rent rises. Queen Mary College is in the middle of a three-year programme of rent rises. Union president Stella Smith said: "It is 6.5 per cent per year for three years plus 3.5 per cent inflation per year."
She said amenities such as a shop and cafe were also threatened. "I think they have treated students appallingly," she said.
Hikes of 5 per cent are to be introduced at Goldsmiths College. Union president Justine Stephens told The THES that the halls were running at a deficit after having frozen rents when fees were introduced.
At Imperial College, union president Hamish Common said: "We have got a 5 per cent rent rise which we are pretty unhappy about."