Birmingham Socialist Students member
The management of the universities of Wolverhampton, Roehampton and De Montfort have unleashed a savage row of cuts to their programmes and their staff. Wolverhampton has stopped taking applicants for 138 distinct courses, mainly in Arts and Humanities (including its high-ranking fashion course), Roehampton is planning to lay off up to 226 academics after cutting many of its humanities courses, and De Montfort has announced the redundancy of 58 of its staff.
In a period when the cost-of-living crisis is making living in this country impossible for many, university staff are now seeing themselves made redundant and without an income. Socialist Students vehemently condemns these cuts and extends its solidarity to all students and staff affected by them.
These savage cuts have been approved by managements who see their institutions not as places of learning, but increasingly as businesses. Their attention is in massive infrastructure projects and business partnerships rather than the teaching and research that happens in their university. In their blind pursuit of “competitiveness” and “optimisation”, they are willing to cut even their best staff and their better programmes if they do not conform to the neo-liberal capitalist vision of society.
But these cuts are also a consequence of the unsustainable financial model of universities in this country. The lack of direct government funding encourages management to extort as much from students as possible in tuition fees, landing them in a lifetime of student debt. Because national tuition fees are not enough to compensate for the lack of funding, they rely heavily on international student fees, and a slight reduction of these students can make their whole financial model crumble, just as we saw during the COVID pandemic.
Another strategy deployed by universities is to pack as many students as possible into their courses to draw as much income as possible from them. Therefore, when a programme – no matter how prestigious or well-regarded – fails to attract corporate investment or is considered to not have enough students, it gets mercilessly cut, making the university all the more academically poorer.
As long as universities rely on a model of unrepayable student debt and class-packing, there will be more cuts and slashes to faculties, more laying off of staff, and a dramatic worsening of the quality of teaching and research. This is why Socialist Students campaigns for universities to be publicly funded by taking the wealth out the hands of the super-rich, for the scrapping of tuition fees and the introduction of living grants for students, open publication of the financial ledgers of the universities, and for the democratic control of universities by workers, trade unions and democratically elected student representatives.
The programme and staff cuts in Wolverhampton, Roehampton and De Montfort have clearly targeted humanities and arts courses. The reason for such a focus is that university bosses in their words want to focus on “developing programmes with practical skills and industry/employer engagements” – i.e., for meeting the needs of big business!
As well as fighting for free education, Socialist Students fights for decent jobs for all – including access to adult education, an end to bogus apprenticeship schemes combined with a guarantee of a job at the end of it, and the possibility of combining training for a trade and formal education.
We also say that the study of arts and humanities must not become the preserve of a small elite. Socialist Students fights for an education system run for the benefit of students, workers and wider society as a whole, not in the interests of the bosses and the super-rich.
This means struggling for a socialist alternative to the chaos of the system of capitalism. This includes the building of a mass movement of students and workers to fight for democratic workers’ control of society’s massive wealth and resources to ensure that everyone can study what they are interested in – not what is meted out to us by the Tories and the bosses.
We say – no to class divisions in university programmes! No to cuts in teaching and research! For free, high-quality and publicly funded education! Students need to organise and fight to ensure that what is transpiring at the universities of Wolverhampton, Roehampton and De Montfort cannot happen again.