Talk of fee strikes is starting to spread through the UK student movement. There are fee strikes ongoing at SOAS University of London and Royal College of Art (RCA); they started in January primarily due to students feeling they have not received “value for money”.
Fee strikes are particularly feasible at those universities because of the high proportion of international and postgraduate students, who pay fees from their own accounts, and can therefore withhold them. Home undergraduates’ fees are paid directly by UK student finance, and so they cannot “fee-strike”.
The ongoing strikes remain worthwhile, and are winning demands. In the strike’s first week, SOAS students have won improved academic mitigation conditions. Wider political demands have been passed to further meetings with higher management.
The demands of the RCA fee strike exist more appeasingly within the narrative of university as a consumer experience, with demands not mentioning free education as a long term goal, or solidarity with staff facing cuts. This is an attitude taken up by a number of student campaign groups.
Fee strikes with radical demands on management, in solidarity with staff, could be effective at some universities, and should be supported. They are not, however, a quick-fix answer to a national strategy.