Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/418/4761
Hidden - the effects of term-time working
UNIVERSITY VICE-chancellors hid vital research on student debt to avoid criticising the government's higher education policies before this year's general election.
Zena Awad, national convenor Socialist Students
Universities UK (UUK), the vice-chancellors' umbrella body, ordered extensive cuts of "politically contentious" parts of a study on the effect of term-time employment on students.
The evidence showed academic performance suffering for students forced to work in term-time due to financial hardship. Many students admit missing lectures, having difficulty accessing facilities on campus, and producing poor quality assignments.
UUK, which strongly supports the government's top-up fees policy, is accused of breaching "research ethics".
The report told of the high debt students face as a result of New Labour's policies and linked students' term-time employment with poorer performance.
In January 2004, just days before the Bill introducing top-up fees scraped through the Commons by five votes, the report's coordinator complained that UUK was "sitting on" this work. Later, UUK policy chief Bruce removed the chapters revealing this evidence, saying: "This report covers... issues that affect the vital interests of UUK."
Socialist Students say vice-Chancellors on over £100,000 a year, a standard of living far above most workers and students, identify with business interests.
We campaign for universities to be run democratically by committees of lecturers, workers and students. We also fight for mass action by workers and students to defeat New Labour's agenda in education. We fight for decent public funding, an end to privatisation, reversal of the cuts, the abolition of all fees and the re-introduction of a living grant for all.
A MORE recent survey shows that New Labour's attacks on higher education increased dramatically the number of students in work since the end of the 1990s. 50% of students feel forced to take term-time low-paid jobs, typically in bars, cafes and shops, spending less time on academic work and cutting their odds of obtaining a good grade by over a third.
Students from the poorest homes and ethnic minority backgrounds are most likely to work long hours to help pay bills. 90% of all students had taken out student loans with one in five saddled with debts higher than £15,000.
Fighting privatisation in Manchester
University of Manchester Students' Union (UMSU) were pressured by Socialist Students' campaigning to submit a motion to the general meeting to decide policy against the proposed privatisation of a number of the university halls of residence.
Max Toynbee, University of Manchester
However, the motion drafted by the welfare officer didn't oppose privatisation. It implied that selling off 'hard management' (the buildings) is acceptable as long as the 'soft management' (maintenance, cleaning, security) is kept under university control. But this will mean decisions will be made in the interests of companies' profits, and not students.
The Socialist Students' amendment pointed out that rents from privatised halls would go to private companies, rather than benefiting the university and its students. Funding should be provided by government and not by placing further burdens on students already indebted by tuition fees and loans. We added a simple statement: 'This union believes that the university should not privatise any halls of residence'.
Finally, we proposed that the union should launch a campaign of mass action involving demonstrations and occupations, linking up with other workers affected by privatisation.
The following day, the welfare officer phoned me, saying that if I did not withdraw the Socialist Students' amendment, she would withdraw the entire motion from the meeting. She added that it would make the union's position untenable (meaning that it was unacceptable to the university management) and that linking up with other workers affected by privatisation would make the issue too broad for students.
This is rubbish! The workers affected by privatisation are the receptionists, porters, cleaners and various other staff that work in our halls of residence and uniting with them is vital in opposing the university's plans.
In the end the meeting was inquorate [insufficient numbers to take any decisions] but the welfare officer is clearly out of touch with students. On Socialist Students' stalls, students have been very angry about the university's plans.
People don't turn up to general meetings because they don't see what the union is and why they should get involved. Students' unions are increasingly seen as discount providers.
We need to reclaim the NUS nationally and locally, so that we can transform them into combative bodies that fight for their members.
After the meeting some students met up to discuss how to take the campaign forward and Socialist Students members will be ensuring this is followed up through meetings in halls, involving students and workers on the ground.
Building in Stoke-on-Trent
Socialist party members Mandy and Helen have launched a Socialist Student Society at Stoke-on-Trent college, one of the largest FE colleges in Britain.
Helen Blakeman, Stoke-on-Trent
This has generated interest from both students and lecturers and a regular stall has been up and running successfully for several weeks.
Mandy stood for election as the Socialist Students' candidate for the Student Union executive. It meant a mad rush to get posters printed and up but Mandy's campaign emphasised important political issues, making her the only candidate with a political manifesto. As a result she won a seat on the Student Union (SU) executive and Student Council, showing that political interest has definitely been generated through our stalls and campaigning work.
The SU sponsored several students to go to Socialism 2005 and a report will be included in the college student newsletter. Ties with the students union are good and Mandy has already raised several issues, including the lack of nutritious food in the canteen, financial issues, which are important for many students, and the need for a common room for mature students.
The SU have provided the use of a room, complete with television, DVD and computers with internet access, and have supplied posters, leaflets and flyers which should help us to build the Socialist Students Society.
One student has already joined the Socialist Party, following our first ever meeting. The next meeting will show Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 followed by a discussion on the war in Iraq.
Progress within the college has been very quick and positive overall and the meetings and stalls we have planned should help to strengthen support for Socialist Students.
In The Socialist 1 December 2005: