by Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser
The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched its campaign for a ‘student strike for education’, calling for a national student demonstration in London on 2 March.
Students need a fightback! Two years of Covid have laid bare the effects of Tory and Labour government marketisation of universities.
In September 2020, students were lied to about in-person teaching, and then locked down on campuses, just so university management could keep our rent and tuition fee payments. This came on top of years of cuts to jobs, wages and conditions, and courses on campus, meaning a slow decline of the quality of education students receive, while paying £9,250-a-year fees.
Last year, student rent strikes across the country succeeded in winning millions of pounds in rent refunds. Far from just being a fight for compensation for the disruption caused by Covid, for many students the rent strikes were a first step towards fighting against marketisation, cuts, fees and student debt.
When the rent strike movement was in full swing, Socialist Students organised campus protests to demand tuition fee and rent refunds for students, funded by the government, as the first step towards the complete scrapping of tuition fees.
The University and College Union (UCU) took three days of strike action last term over attacks to staff pay and pensions, and is continuing with action short of strike this term, with more possible strikes to come. Students have been protesting against the failures of management to effectively tackle the pandemic of sexual harassment and assault on campuses.
All of these events combined have mounted pressure on the leaders of the National Union of Students (NUS) to act. The NUS is demanding, among other things, “higher and further education to be funded by governments – free at the point of use for students – with proper pay, pensions and conditions for staff across education and beyond”.
Albeit a whole year after the campus rent strike movement developed, that the NUS has finally called for a national demonstration to stop these attacks is welcome. Given the depth of the crisis facing students, 2 March could find a significant response from students looking to fight for free education.
However, guaranteeing the best possible turnout for such a demonstration will take a fighting campaign on the ground, linking the day-to-day attacks on students and staff to the need for free education. Student unions should mobilise students, including funding and organising transport to the protest in London for students and staff.
This demonstration has been called while rumours are swirling that the government is considering lowering the student debt repayment threshold, threatening to trap working-class students in particular in a lifetime of debt repayments. This is a prime opportunity for the NUS to put forward the cancellation of student debt, the replacement of loans with grants we can actually live on, and the scrapping of tuition fees, all funded by taking the wealth out of the hands of the super-rich.
Socialist Students is organising local campus protests as part of the campaign to mobilise students for 2 March, and will be demanding that student unions organise coaches to London. 2 March could be a significant step in building the fightback against marketisation of universities and for free education.
- Socialist Students annual conference is on Saturday 26 February in London to discuss how to rebuild the student movement, and what next after 2 March – visit socialiststudents.org.uk to sign up for updates about the conference