Northampton: Anger at prison-like accommodation
Ever since St John’s Halls have come under private ownership, the same complaints have been repeated year after year: most notably, ever-rising rent prices, unsafe living conditions, and prison-like security.
For an accommodation regularly likened to a prison, rent prices at £153-a-week for a single ensuite (the option for 90.8% of students) are appalling. Strict, outsourced security enforce a rule restricting guests to one a night and once a week with a pre-approved request, and require students to enter and exit through a full-height metal turnstile. Many students feel as if they’re living in a jailhouse.
From speaking with students currently living in St John’s, it’s clear that the standard of living in the halls is low. Common grievances include flats having no running water, hobs and ovens that don’t work (which halls owners fail to fix) and wide gaps underneath doors. Others complain of showers, heating, and plug sockets not working. With so many issues left unsolved for so many students, you have to question what the extortionate rent we’re paying actually goes towards!
Oxford: Support for socialists standing in elections
The freshers stalls at the two universities in Oxford were invigorating. We had many strong conversations, with political consciousness seeming higher than your average campaign stall. Students asked directly what separated us from other groups and how we plan to turn rhetoric into action.
There was a strong distrust for Labour among the students, with support for the idea of trade unionists and socialists running in the next election. Other elements of the programme resonated well, especially on the cost of living and housing, which seemed the most immediate issues for the students. The call for free education seemed more distant, and students seem to view it as less attainable since Keir Starmer ditched it as Labour policy.
Overall the stalls have gone well, with 22 copies of the Socialist and 15 Socialist Student magazines sold, as well as 100 sign-ups across both universities.
Cardiff: Solidarity with striking workers
Around 15 Socialist Party members helped campaign at the Cardiff Uni freshers this year – in between work and studies! Though security moved us on from our preferred spot on the first day, it didn’t stop us engaging with hundreds of students as they started their first day of freshers.
There was clear anger from first-year students in regard to tuition fees, but also the fact that annual student rent is now on average higher than the maximum available student loan. The stalls also proudly had some University and College Union (UCU) leaflets from striking workers in support of their recent and possible future action, something that Cardiff Socialist Students has supported unequivocally.
Cardiff Socialist Students got over a hundred sign-ups and eight people expressed an interest in joining the Socialist Party, showing the eagerness towards our ideas. The student meeting we organised in freshers week had 20 freshers at it, many of whom were ex-Labour members who were enthused by Corbyn’s programme on education, but have become essentially politically homeless since Starmer’s pro-capitalist takeover. The meeting also had students from University of South Wales in Trefforest at it, where Caerphilly Socialist Party is in touch with many Nigerian students who want to organise.
A main theme that came from the meeting was that Socialist Students isn’t just a talking shop, where we don’t just shout out random slogans and do nothing else. Several Socialist Student members made the point that as well as supporting UCU strikers, they also want to support the Cardiff council bin workers’ strike, and possibly stand in future elections – as George Phillips from Socialist Students and others did for TUSC in the council elections.
The society also agreed that it is going to plan campaign stalls to engage with even more students over the year, to ensure Cardiff Socialist Students carries on having a strong presence on campus, to engage in the struggles to come.
Warwick: Students join the fight for socialism
Warwick Socialist Students met with seven new students in attendance. Over 150 names were collected in the campaign stalls building up to the meeting aiming to answer students and young workers’ questions on what their role is in fighting for socialism.
Sky-high rents, with the crippling weight of debt, the repayment threshold of which being lowered to £25,000 annually, have meant that the consciousness of even apolitical students has been raised because of their conditions in all universities. Admin staff also expressed interest in unionising their workplace, which shows the consistent exploitation of staff and students alike.
One student is already attending Coventry Socialist Party meetings, with other attendees expressing interest in visiting upcoming pickets. Having students on campus raising issues explicitly facing students is vital to build and keep links in the chain between students and workers.
Many students are forced into work while studying. The point was made at the meeting that private schools set their own exam curriculums, allowing teachers to selectively teach what is expected to be on exams. So when working-class students who are employed get higher grades, they are really putting in twice the work of students who don’t!
Plans have been made for our next Warwick meeting, including activity on campus to build for it. With Warwick University’s malicious reputation, our activity on campus is vital and will continue.
University of Arts London: Caught in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis
Many UAL students have been caught in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis, with rising tuition fees and poor job opportunities which pay as little as £9.15 an hour. Students need to come together to hold an open discussion on their concerns and the lack of help universities give to their students – even profiting from allowing private art shops to operate on campus as if they are the university’s – which allows them to charge up to 46% higher on supplies.
University students bear the cost of the ‘independent bodies’ which profit off of them. Those who are international students are paying up to £24,000 to £28,000 per year for their education, but across the board our requirements are being ignored. This issue is branded as something that naturally occurs within this economy. There is nothing natural or reasonable about it, nor university lecturers not being able to make ends meet and who are expected to work extra hours without proper pay for doing so.
Salford and Manchester: Feeling abandoned by Labour
Fighting against the Manchester rain, we have managed to keep campaign stall activity consistent at the University of Salford, Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Manchester (UoM). The UCU has been striking at UoM so we coordinated our stalls to intervene with the strikes.
Students were clear about not supporting the Tory government, but many of them also expressed no faith in Starmer’s Labour, feeling abandoned after his U-turn over scrapping tuition fees.
One student said to me that he doesn’t know who to vote for in the next general election. He wants the Tories out but can’t bring himself to support Starmer’s Labour.
We are creating a solid programme of meetings which will be held in Manchester and Salford to cater to as many students as possible. Our next meetings will be on how students and the working class can fight back against the cost-of-living crisis.