Socialist Students taking action for free education around the country

Stanley Harris, UAL Socialist Students

UAL Socialist Students

Since the beginning of the pandemic students across campuses at the University Of The Arts London have been left feeling misled and short changed after handing over their tuition fees and signing onto courses with the assurance that they would be provided with practical and hands on learning that would give them free and regular access to the vital training and facilities advertised across all the campuses within the university. The reality however is that we have been presented instead with online courses that have been stripped down and condensed in many cases beyond any resemblance of what was promised.

In the light of continuing gains made by the collective action and struggles of many students in this last difficult last year, it is clear now more than ever that student action must be taken in order for our discontent to be heard and demands met. Since the beginning of the academic year UAL Socialist Students have been gaining support and momentum and on the 21st April called for a campus protest to be held outside Central St Martins College of Art.

Demands were made that the university refund tuition fees for the years effected by the pandemic and that it is vital that these funds are made up for by the government as a stepping stone within the wider struggle for free education and against Tory cuts. This protest gave many students an idea of the response our struggle is likely to face from both an uncommunicative management and a disparaged student body. It is imperative that students fight now for the tuition that they are due and have paid for in good faith or face footing the bill of the impending economic crisis.

Alistair Mansfield, York Young Socialists

York Socialist Students

On 21 April, members of the Young Socialists, Socialist Students and the Socialist Party gathered in St Helen’s Square alongside speakers from IWGB, York Student Solidarity Network and others to demand free education, and to speak of their experiences within an increasingly corporatized education system.

Many students spoke of being treated as “cash-cows”, brought back to unsafe campuses under false pretences to collect tuition fees and rent money. A broad coalition has been formed to organise a rent strike for the coming term, as well as a campaign for refunds on tuition fees.

A persistent theme was the crisis in youth mental health, with speakers highlighting the devastating consequences of privatisation and cuts to healthcare, exacerbated by mishandling of the COVID pandemic. Also highlighted was the systematic denial and cover-up of sexual harassment and violence at all levels of education.

Connections were made with other struggles, as youth unemployment fuels the gig economy and students are increasingly forced to work alongside their studies. Those present were also reminded of the necessity of opposing the new PSCS bill, so that our voices may continue to be heard on these and other issues. Amidst the anger was a sense of hope.

Alice Hennigan, Leeds Socialist Students

Leeds Socialist Students

Leeds Socialist Students rallied at Leeds University Union on 21 April to fight for tuition fee refunds for the year. It was a quiet local campus protest but there were many passers-by happy to stop, take a leaflet, and find out what we were up to.

The pandemic has proved to students like us that it is more important than ever to keep pushing for free education and an end to austerity and class division as a whole, especially in education centres and settings where students have been largely forgotten about. At £9,250 a year for undergraduate courses, students have been subjected to mostly online learning and minimal contact hours with university and tutors.

There was a lot of footfall through the campus, and people were receptive to our efforts in fighting for tuition fee refunds! Kat, a Leeds Socialist Party member managed to do four interviews with local radio stations and a segment was featured on the ITV news website.

Jake George, Nottingham Trent Socialist Students

Nottingham Trent Socialist Students

The stall held at Nottingham Trent University, for the Socialist Students Day of Action, had a very good response with different students who had seen it advertised coming along to help leaflet and campaign. While speaking to students about tuition fees and rent refunds, it was clear there was anger about the situation that they have been left in, many talking about the need for a protest to happen on campus to get refunds.

Hearing students complain about online learning, lockdowns and their issues with rent, etc, it is clear to see why they are frustrated as they have to pay the same amount of money than other years without that real university experience.

It’s easy to see why this crisis has developed when you look at the income figures for NTU. £260 Million of the £313 million income the university took in in 2018-19 came from tuition, highlighting the low amount of funding they receive from the government and the reality that they pack classes to maximise their income.

Due to mounting pressure by rent strike groups, NTU, along with some other universities, has eventually given some rent reductions, but as one student said, many are in private accommodation and have not yet got concessions.

At some points there were queues to sign our petition to refund fees and quite a few students agreed to attend the follow-up zoom meeting on the 25 April. Socialist Students now has enough signatures to start an official society at NTU.

There was definitely a mood amongst students that it was necessary to continue the fight for these concessions by protesting, with a lot of them agreeing that a campaign to return to free education was needed and that they wanted to take it further and push for socialism.

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