As rent strikes continue around the UK, other fronts of struggle in higher education are opening up.
Leicester and Liverpool Universities have recently announced redundancies of academic staff. A strike planned for 8 February at Brighton University over cuts in the IT services was called off after management made some concessions but the fight continues. Action Short of Strike by UCU members at Goldsmiths continues with no sight of management backing down on long-threatened redundancies, despite no drop in student numbers.
Many university managements are using the pandemic as an opportunity to cut workers and wage bills.
Student-organised solidarity with these disputes is essential, as the victories over cuts will help us to win our demands for fee freezes, rent rebates and more. It is up to fledgling student activist groups at a local level organised around rent strikes, and growing activist groups such as Liberate the University, to push for that solidarity.
Throughout the pandemic post-graduate (PhD) students have been pushing for more funding for extensions to research in order to help overcome problems arising from Covid. Student parents, students doing lab work and field work and disabled students have been particularly badly affected. Government funds for extensions are paltry. As PhD students are not classified as workers (despite contributing to research) they are not eligible for furlough schemes. Pandemic PGRs have published a report
Meanwhile the government has said it wants to get students back onto campus by 8 March (in line with schools). Unions are concerned that this will result in compromises on health and safety and staff being bullied into face-to-face teaching where it is not necessary: that would be a cosmetic exercise to indicate that Unis are now “open for business”, just three weeks before the end of term. It could provide cover for universities who want to avoid or minimise paying out for rent rebates.