By Edmund Schluessel, NUS NEC elect
Since mid-April, Swansea Metropolitan University’s students’ union has been running a food bank so its own students can get enough to eat.
Students’ Union sabbatical officer Michael “Smike” Twitchen, who launched the scheme, told the Socialist Students: “I have seen a number of students who have come to see me about their finances for all kinds of reasons. Our aim is that no student should sacrifice food for education, and many students are forced to choose between paying bills, getting the rent in on time, buying books, and buying food. And too often, food and healthy diets are put last on the list of purchases.”
While the Welsh Assembly provides a small and inadequate living grant for full-time undergraduates, many of Swansea Met’s students are part-time, mature students living off campus and with families. The scheme is the first in UK universities, but more are sure to come and food banks for students are already commonplace in the United States and Canada.
The news broke the day after university vice-chancellors put out a call to change the terms of undergraduates’ loans. VCs want students to start paying back their loans when their income is only £18,000 a year, far below the UK average. With recent graduates only barely scraping by if they manage to get a job, adding an additional £75 to their monthly bills would be a kick in the teeth sure to dissuade thousands from going on to higher education – with underemployment now epidemic, many students wouldn’t even be making use of their degree in their first job after graduating.
There is plenty of money available to eliminate tuition fees and provide every student, full-time or part-time, with a maintenance grant, as was done before Thatcher. Instead of stopping tax evasion by the rich, the government is cutting their tax bill. The Welsh Assembly have proven they’d prefer to go along with Westminster than stand up to them and provide an alternative. We need a mass movement of students, workers and the unemployed to build a democratic, socialist education system: free at the point of use and accessible to all, regardless of age, ability or income. Education shouldn’t be a struggle to survive, it should help people enjoy life.