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Socialist Students sends solidarity to students at the University of Manchester (UoM), who through their protests, have ensured the removal of two-metre high security fences designed to pen them in. University management took the outrageous decision to set up fences around the Fallowfields student accommodation, with the only available exit for students guarded by security.
After the protests, UoM Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell apologised and announced the fences would be removed first thing the following morning, begging the question why they were ever set up in the first place? This incident highlights the crucial need to take decision-making about how to curb the spread of the virus on campus out of the hands of university vice-chancellors and management, and put it in under the democratic control and oversight of staff and students ourselves.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Socialist Students has been calling for the establishment of democratically elected health and safety committees on the campuses, made up of campus trade unions, staff and students. For years, management on campuses have been happy to implement vicious cuts to jobs, courses, and student support services, as well as privatisation and outsourcing - attacking both our education and staff. Why should we trust them to run the campuses in our interests in this time of crisis?
It's been these cuts - cheered on by the Tories and right-wing Labour MPs in Westminster - which have left our campuses completely vulnerable to the spread of the virus. And these cuts are the result of the tuition fee funding system, which means our universities go underfunded while university bosses compete among each other to attract as many students to 'their' universities as possible.
They have gone so far this year as lying to students about face-to-face teaching and the existence of 'real-life' freshers' and other social events. We demand a full refund of the fees paid this year, and public funding of free education.
Socialist Students condemns this outrageous incident on the Manchester University campus. But attacks like this are happening on students all across the country, as the government and university management try and pin the blame for the spread of the virus on students.
We call for the establishment of staff and student health and safety committees on the campuses, as a step towards a democratic discussion about how to start running the universities in our interests. We fight to reverse all of the funding cuts to our campuses in the last decade, and to end all outsourcing on campus. We demand an end to rip-off landlords preying on students for profit, and fight for students to be able to democratically set rents in all student halls.
To win all of that means building a national student movement, armed with a programme to kick private profit out of higher education. It means fighting for the scrapping of tuition fees, and for government funding for our universities, to guarantee a high quality, safe and free education for all students.
Socialist Students recently held a rally bringing together over 80 student campaigners and young workers from across the country. We discussed building the national campaign for free education, for decent well paid jobs for all, and for a future for young people. Get in touch with Socialist Students to join us on your local campus.
Students reacted immediately to the fences being erected, holding outdoor meetings and rallies to communicate with each other and to let the university know they were having none of it. After a night of protest, the university "recognised" their mistake of not advising the students that they "were taking measures to improve their safety" and promised to remove the barriers. The students had already removed many of the seven-foot barriers.
At the protests, home-made banners including "HMP Fallowfield - £9K to enter" were abundant. Students spoke of how they had been tricked into returning by being assured their universities were safe. One student said: "We were promised a safe campus. Thousands of students live in unsafe halls and then we are being told this is our fault. This is not our fault." Another said they were being "treated like animals."
The students are being treated like cash-cows during their study. Dragged back to university campuses and paying £9,000 per annum for perhaps one socially distanced lecture a week, paying hefty fees for accommodation that isn't fit for self-isolation - the students are rightly angry. Students' unions should organise, mobilise and demand fees and accommodation refunds. Fees should be cancelled and students should have oversight of all measures proposed to stop the spread of Covid. Safe campuses are essential for students and staff alike. The campus trade unions should link up with students' unions and Socialist Students to challenge university management and make the universities a decent and safe place to work and study.
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Article dated 11 November 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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