Mark Sayers, Keighley
The UK’s capitalist university system is rotten to the core. Universities’ prime aim is not to provide education for students – but to generate income for their vice chancellors and management who make millions by ripping off students. For the past three years, I’ve endured an experience which many disabled students in this country have faced. Many like me have a bitter taste in their mouth regarding how we have been treated.
I chose to study an online history degree at the University of Birmingham because I worked full-time shifts – like many working-class people, I was unable to attend university in person. I thought it was the right choice for me. How wrong I was. Because I have dyslexia, I needed extra help with writing essays.
Universities in the UK now use private contractors to provide disability support. They will inform you this is to provide appropriate help for disabled students – this is a blatant lie. The University of Birmingham, like the majority of UK universities, use companies such as Clear Links, which seek to make profit from supporting students. This support is paid for by Student Finance England, who pay them millions of pounds of public money. And in my experience they were useless.
I found myself completing course work – without support – which I knew was not up to standard. As a result of going through two months of hell writing the first essay, I informed the history department that I was thinking of withdrawing from the degree. But before I decided to withdraw, I was charged for the second module, before it had even started. By now I had come to realise they had no interest in their students, apart from exploiting them for financial gain – charging extortionate fees for their online degree.
I went through a complaints process with the university, and then with an independent adjudicator. Ultimately, my case was rejected and I found myself unable to get my fees refunded. Because I had withdrawn from the University of Birmingham without being granted ‘compassionate personal reasons’, I am now unable to get financial support from Student finance England for future studies.
My experience is a clear reflection of how disabled students are treated in our rotten education system. It is not unique or unusual – there are literately tens of thousands of disabled students who have had a similar experience as me – if not far worse. And the underlying reason is that the education system serves capitalism rather than providing genuine education for students (search “What would socialist universities look like?” at socialistparty.org.uk).
Birmingham’s vice-chancellor earns £440,000 a year. Meanwhile, the university will not return a measly £3,500 to a student who was treated with contempt. This just shows where universities’ priorities are – and it’s certainly not providing education for their students.