End the marketisation of education!

Over 1,800 students at Queen’s University have signed an open letter calling for a Student Safety Net in the midst of the Covid crisis. This follows the launching of a “Students Deserve Better” campaign by the Students’ Union (QUBSU) as part of a broader initiative across the UK.

The campaign takes up issues of housing, mental health, teaching quality and, most significantly, tuition fees. It calls on the government to refund the fees of all current students as a step towards waiving all student loan debt and abolishing fees in favour of fully-funded education with living grants.  

This initiative is a significant step forward. Hundreds of students have now signed up to attend campaign planning meetings and get involved. This comes off the back of a wave of occupations of student accommodation in Britain, with students in Manchester winning a 30% rent reduction, as well as the recent victory of QUBSU workers for reinstatement to the Job Retention Scheme and 100% furlough payments.

Build united struggles of students and staff

Struggles such as those of Unite trade union members in QUBSU and Manchester students – with escalating actions of protests, strikes and occupations – should be used as a model for such a campaign. Workers who have and are fighting against both the government and university management on the issues of workload, casualisation and continued marketisation of education are natural allies of students beginning to struggle on similar issues.

This campaign must make more than gestures of solidarity towards workers – such as lecturers in the UCU union who are already balloting for further strike action, and non-academic staff such as those in Unite – but instead coordinate our struggles, strengthening them in the process.

To win on these demands will require more than petitions and letter writing campaigns. The pandemic has made it increasingly clear to students and workers alike that nothing will be freely granted by belligerent management or a government in crisis. A coordinated and democratic campaign led by students, workers and their unions – linking these forces together – will be a powerful weapon in the fight against the exploitation of students and can deal a decisive blow to the interests of profit which have undermined education for years.