By Workers' Liberty students
Most first year uni students will have planned to stay in university accommodation this year. Most will already be locked into contracts or will have paid for the first month or term. This year, as in all recent years, rents may be so expensive they drain most, even all, of a student loan.
But this year we are also living with Covid-19. Now students are stuck in high-density barely-affordable accommodation where there is a high risk of getting the virus. If say 1 in 500 among students (an age-group with a higher infection rate) has the virus, then, statistically, among student hall-of-residence flats of 12, one in 40 will have an infected person right now, and one in six will have one by end of term if infection rates even remain constant. Meanwhile:
• many cannot afford to eat because they can't find part-time work to top up their loan income;
• they are cut off from the University experience of wider "real-life" socialising;
• they are cut off from the essential University experience of intensive face-to-face teaching and discussion.
• they may be threatened with disciplinary action if they are found to be not covid-distancing
• they not allowed to travel home to see friends and family because Covid restrictions stipulate they cannot return to Uni accommodation (particularly tough for students who have caring responsibilities for people at home).
Students have been conned! Universities have forced students to take up accommodation contracts for the Universities' financial benefit, insisting that they have to be close to the institution for face-to-face teaching, in the full knowledge that such teaching is very limited and may soon be unsustainable.
Unis will probably severely limit face-to-face teaching or close it down altogether as high infection rates develop in student accommodation and unions oppose face-to-face teaching on reasonable grounds of health and safety.
Many students will soon be feeling angry at the lack of planning and the failure to give them the choice to opt into online-only teaching early on and live at their out-of term address for now.
Student unions and the campus unions need to develop joint campaigns which organise direct action, including building for rent strikes when rents fall due. The campaign should demand:
• The right to get out of Uni accommodation contracts early. (And if students wish, to return to that accommodation when Covid regulations allow for it.)
• Cut the rents!
• Hardship grants for students in need;
• The right to access online-only teaching for all students;
• Study for international students to be organised during appropriate time-zones;
• Prompt access to tests and test results for both students and staff so decisions can be made more easily.
The government needs to provide emergency bail-out funds to those universities that need it, to stop redundancies, to employ more staff, and to cover other shortfalls in funding.
Workers' Liberty Students meet every Monday online, 6-7pm, term time.
Our next meeting is on solidarity with Hong Kong protests. Eventbrite link here.