Socialist Party
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14 October 2020

"It's not fair" - lockdown students demand free education

Below are edited extracts from a letter which Peggy Owens of Cardiff Socialist Students has sent to Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford.

Students have been unfairly blamed for the recent surge in cases, and 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 vulnerable to the financial consequences of the pandemic.

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 they 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.

With this quality of teaching and experience available, students have a right to be angry, I think. I currently live with a student 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.

To address the 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 were promised. The Tories have shown that the money is there - why can't higher education be free for all?

2. There should be mass testing for students. Some people are shielding in university, and scared for their lives.

3. There should be free accommodation for those who are isolating, and students' rights as tenants need to be strengthened.

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

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?

The Socialist Party demands