With numbers of university students testing positive for Covid rising dramatically — 400 at Nottingham University, nearly 500 at Sheffield University, over 700 at Northumbria — student action is beginning to get off the ground.
The rising Covid infection has destroyed university bosses’ claims that face-to-face teaching was sustainable and campuses were “open for business”. Thousands of students are now in lockdown in crowded halls. Given a choice, many students would now prefer to go back to their home town to study online or defer their degrees.
At Glasgow University, students have been offered a four-week rent rebate; but that is too little, too late. Students must have the right to end or defer university accommodation contracts!
Support for that demand is growing. It is backed by the University College Union and National Union of Students (NUS). Students cannot wait for university managements to sort out their mess, or the Government to financially bail out universities.
Student activists, drawing in some first years, at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and elsewhere, are now discussing rent strikes to back up the demand to get out of contracts.
Last week NUS, together with “Cut the Rent” (a student-led national network) organised a rent-strike training session. National co-ordination needs to continue and develop into an on-going democratically-organised planning forum.
Many other demands for the wider student body need to be raised including cuts to extortionate rents, stronger rights against private landlords, financial help in the face of joblessness, and fee amnesties for international students (who pay their fees upfront).
Action on the ground reflect the multifaceted problems of student livelihoods. Students at Edinburgh, where there are 25,000 students in Uni accommodation, are organising for a Living Rent. The tenants’ group Acorn organised a protest in Coventry against one of the many national private student landlords.
Immediate demands for students in lockdown — for food and welfare support and an end to punitive fines for breaking lockdown — must be pressed for by campus student and trade unions.
Fee rebates for home students, as now being demanded by @RefundUsNow2020, are not the answer! Students will not benefit from a fee rebate until sometime in the future, if ever. The demand is “justified” on grounds of “lower-quality” online teaching, i.e. putting a monetary value on years of learning, discussing and thinking, which is divisive and ultimately inhuman.
Long-term marketisation of universities has lead to this chaos. Students must link up with staff who are also now fighting cuts, to save jobs, and over the greater workload of preparing online teaching.
Joint student-staff campaigns — such as the ones being set up at at Cambridge, Goldsmiths and elsewhere — are the way to fight for safe campuses and the longer-term future of higher education.