England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Covid fiasco in student halls: Capitalist ‘education’ has failed us!

The impact of Covid on university education has been significant. Yet across the country institutions are attempting to present an image of ‘business as usual’, encouraging students to move into halls despite the obvious risk of outbreaks in a blatant attempt to squeeze rent payments from students regardless of the health impact. The move to largely online lecturing has negatively impacted the quality of education received by students, as lecturers are forced, without adequate training and preparation, to use unfamiliar software.

Students and faculty alike face huge challenges in adapting to their new circumstances. While some disruption is unavoidable it bears noting that a year of tuition at the Open University costs £3,096, while a year of tuition at a physical university costs over £9,000, despite the fact that students are now receiving online tuition and are in some cases unable to access the universities’ facilities. In short, we aren’t receiving the promised level of tuition, but are still paying for it! 

In our experience we are all currently receiving around five hours a week of teaching, of which two hours are supposed to be in person. After one of us had our first week of term, we were informed that the lecturer for my in-person seminar was self-isolating, so I would receive no in-person teaching for the next two weeks. This demonstrates that lecturers are being put at risk by their employers, who force them to teach in person despite the health risks that entails, in a desperate attempt to justify the extortionate rates that they charge for education.

We are third-year students who don’t live in halls, so thankfully we have avoided the kinds of situations seen in Glasgow or Manchester, where students have been confined and imprisoned in their halls of residence. It was clear at the beginning of the year that universities were completely unconcerned with the safety of opening halls as usual, with insufficient measures taken to ensure the safety of both students and staff. 

This ties into an issue that has been festering since before the pandemic, the corporatisation and marketisation of universities. Despite the image that these institutions present, they are not public bodies, but are instead run for profit. This means that they have a vested interest in maximising their income during the pandemic, and are blatantly putting this ahead of their duty of care to the student body.

What can we do about it?

It’s readily apparent that Keir Starmer is unwilling to take a stand against the Tory government on this or any other issue. As such we as socialists and young people must organise and create a movement to demand that we are compensated for the conditions we are experiencing. The response must be coordinated in a way that does not lead to redundancies for lecturers, who cannot be blamed for the situation that we have been put in by universities, which are more concerned with their profit margins than the quality of education that they offer.

These local campaigns must be unified nationally, and should collaborate with higher education unions such as the UCU, so we can leverage our power to make radical changes. But as long as we exist under a capitalist system any victories we achieve will constantly be under threat of reversal or repeal. Only through the establishment of socialism and the elimination of the profit motive can the deeper issues be resolved, and we can ensure that situations such as our current one will not be repeated!

Socialist Alternative says:

  • Give students the right to freely opt out of living in halls before it is too late, through a publicly-run test and trace system, not under the rule of private companies like Serco.
  • Cancel rents and fees payments. Rent strike campaigns have already been launched at the University of Glasgow, with many more to come. By linking up nationally, we would be able to mobilise to demand publicly-run, safe and free student accomodation for all.
  • With the deepening economic crash and job losses spurred on by Covid, students who are forced to work part-time to make ends meet will face extra difficulties. We need decent, livable and permanent maintenance grants for students. 
  • We need mental health support for students, now more than ever. The Tories’ attempt to scapegoat students will have a devastating impact on our mental wellbeing as we end up on the receiving end of the government’s blame game. Public funding must be made available now to provide us with free counselling and therapy services for all. End the privatisation of the NHS and end waiting lists.
  • Stand with university workers! Resist the government push to divide us. Students and staff must stand together and prepare to coordinate action against cuts and job losses. Solidarity with the University and College Union in campaigning for full job security and safety for staff.
  • We need to reclaim our education! Take all universities, colleges and schools into full public ownership, with democratic control by students and workers to decide on all emergency health and safety measures. 

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