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13 July 2020

Building a movement to fight for free education


Cardiff Socialist Students

We gathered in the heart of student-dominated Cathays to discuss how we can organise to demand a refund of our fees for this disrupted year, and how we can build a movement to fight for a refund for every year - for free education!

It was entirely predictable that, unless the virus was contained in the wider community, the number of cases in the university would rise rapidly when they reopened. We are disgusted that university management lured students to campus with promises of in-person teaching and 'face-to-face' freshers' events.

They waited for us to pay our fees and sign our tenancy agreements - knowing that we were likely to spend a lot of time in front of a screen, and not a lot of time elsewhere.

On 9 October, as expected, figures emerged which confirmed that infections in the university had more than doubled to 75, compared to the day before. Students support demands to keep university workers safe.

At our protest, Alex, a first-year history student, compared the Tory government to the aristocratic world-war-one generals who sent soldiers over the top in a war for profits. "They cut funding for healthcare to the bone and built a system based on the gig economy that gives us no security. We couldn't have been worse-prepared for the pandemic. How can you isolate when you're overcrowded into shared flats?"

Rhys said, "They're trying to blame people in general, but young people in particular, for going to the pub and spreading the virus - but it was only a couple of weeks ago that they were urging people to 'eat out to help out'!"

Charlie, a first-year archaeology student, agreed - "Rishi Sunak has the gall to urge people in the arts to retrain. Given their incompetent handling of the pandemic, it's the government that needs retraining - or replacing!"

If decisive action had been taken when the virus first hit, our university experience could have looked very different now. Workers and students have got to seize the initiative and take control of deciding what safety measures are necessary, and be prepared to take action to fight for those measures.

A force for change in Swansea

Evan Vaughan, Swansea Socialist Students

Across the UK, the anger amongst students has been rising as the Tory government continues to bumble and U-turn its way through the Covid-19 crisis. Chiefly on student's minds is the vast reduction in university services without any reduction in fees. Universities like Swansea have gone from in-person lectures and access to all of the university services - to online streaming and waiting lists for booked study spaces.

In Swansea, we organised a socially distanced meeting of students to discuss their anger about what's going on, but also to think of ways we can move forward. Although small, there was real enthusiasm amongst the students to get something done.

Freshers voiced their anger at being shoved into student housing with people they don't know and not being able to meet anyone else - changing from what should be a period of meeting new people into a six-person flatmate lottery. Students later into their time at university voiced their concern that Swansea University won't be able to provide the required services to complete their degrees with satisfaction.

Despite this, Swansea University has turned a deaf ear to the genuine concerns of their students. This is why Socialist Students, in Swansea and across the country, are holding meetings like this - to tap into the frustrations of students across the country and build it into a force for meaningful change.

Student fury in Manchester

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students

Students from both the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University were furious about being effectively lied to by both the Tories and university management. They were angry that they had been told universities were ready and able to provide socially distanced face-to-face teaching. In reality, that was never guaranteed as a result of years of cuts on the campuses and the tuition fee funding crisis.

"They've lied to us just to make sure they got our rent and our tuition fees", one student said. When we explained that Socialist Students wants to fight for a tuition fee refund for this year and every year after - in effect scrapping fees altogether, paid for by the government - students immediately agreed.

And they agreed with us again when we further explained that the best way we can win free education is by building a united student and workers' movement that challenges the very existence of the capitalist system itself - a system which offers no future for young people whatsoever.

Bangor: No job cuts - we need staff more than ever!

Michelle Francis, Bangor Socialist Students

The vice-chancellor of Bangor University has decided that his, currently unused, property is more important than the livelihoods of the people who work for him - and also more important than the lives of the students who pay him.

The University plans to cut 200 staff - 120 of these jobs are support staff and 80 are academic staff.

Now is not the time to be cutting jobs. We need staff more than ever. Students need the support to make it through isolation, many are getting more and more depressed, and are confused about what they should be doing.

There is not enough support here in Bangor for all the students in this time of crisis - and now the university has decided it wants to cut student support even further. It's ridiculous!

Socialist Students - as part of its campaign for democratic public ownership of the universities - is demanding:

Socialist Students is calling socially distanced protests this week - campaigning for a fees refund and free education.