“It’s not fair” – lockdown students demand free education

Come to Socialist Students’ national zoom rally on Sunday October 25 at 1pm – register for zoom details here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/socialist-students-and-young-socialists-national-rally-tickets-119810687993?fbclid=IwAR0ag5J4zqt1amyOIngjQ234VKnKAlHJa594j2h_GJXojdBLSP4Vja62mhM

Below is an edited letter from Peggy Owens, Cardiff Socialist Students to Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford

I am writing to you to express my concern regarding the treatment of students and the prospects they face following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have been unfairly blamed for the recent surge in cases, urged to go back to university – moving away from home – only to find themselves in an isolated and dangerous position. With rising debts and insecure housing, they are also left most vulnerable to the financial consequences of the pandemic.

There has been a complete lack of planning in the way the government has coped with coronavirus. First, we were locked down, then, in order to restart the economy, they decided to offer ‘Eat out to help out’. It is no wonder students took advantage of this. Is it their fault that they took the opportunity to meet up after a long time of isolation? No. But alas, they are being tormented for it. With multiple U-turns from the government it is no surprise that people are now confused about what they can and cannot do. However, the singling out of students feels particularly cruel and frankly discriminatory. Government rhetoric has unfairly blamed students for the recent surge in cases when in fact it is government mismanagement which has led to one of the worst death tolls in the world.

Students have been coaxed into moving into halls or student accommodation with the lure of ‘in person seminars and lectures’ only to find all of their education will be delivered online. They could have stayed at home and stayed safe but instead are forced into a busy student environment where viruses spread like wildfire. Not only this but they are now being threatened with a Christmas away from their families quarantined in Halls of Residence. It’s not fair.

For some, higher education is now similar to being in prison. Locked in halls in Manchester and Swansea, students are having to spend their first weeks of university in confinement with no emotional or educational support. They are left wondering what higher education can offer them – predicting a future of joblessness, with the hospitality industry in shreds and no job prospects in sight. Manchester university have suspended face to face teaching and Aberystwyth have also suspended all face to face contact. With this quality of teaching and experience available, students have a right to be angry, I think.

Being locked in halls or other student accommodation is particularly stressful for students with health problems at risk from COVID. I currently live with a man who is shielding and was almost faced with eviction after he was promised a no detriment policy on his course, only to find out this only applied to third year students. This is not just.

The current global pandemic was unprecedented. However it is not fair for students to have to shoulder so much of the burden. I have a number of requests on behalf of students from across the country to address the unfortunate situation in which we have been placed:

1.) I propose that tuition fees are refunded completely because we are not getting the education and university experience we hoped for and, most importantly, were promised. The Tories have shown that the money is there, why can’t we take after countries like Germany and Norway where higher education is free for all?

2.) I propose that there should be mass testing for students.

3.) There should be free accommodation for those who are isolating and students rights as tenants need to be strengthened. Contracts should not be terminated early and eviction should not be lawful.

4.) There should not be cuts to courses, jobs or staff pay as these should be funded by the government.

I think the education system needs to change drastically, this was true before COVID but is now more prescient than ever. Student debt is a deterrent to students from lower income backgrounds especially in the current climate where job prospects are so poor. Meanwhile we have a shortage of many essential staff – shouldn’t we be encouraging young people to go to university to become teachers and nurses of the future?

Socialist Students demands:

• Refund tuition fees – this year and every year! Cancel student debt
• End the rent rip off
• No cuts to courses, jobs or staff pay
• No trust in the Tories and VCs! For democratic trade union and student oversight of all measures taken on the campus to stop the spread of the virus
• Make the 1% pay – take the banks and 125 biggest businesses into democratic public ownership – for socialist planning to provide free, high quality education and jobs for all

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