by Sanku Hasan Arun, King’s College Socialist Students
I went to the annual general meeting of the university student union at King’s College London (KCL) to raise two things. Firstly, to enquire about the election promises by student union officers to reduce rents. And secondly, to support strike action by the University and College Union (UCU) and National Union of Students (NUS) walkout.
On rent reduction, student union representatives said gains had been made, but refused to disclose any concrete details. They quoted confidentiality agreements with student accommodation, which will only be revealed next academic year. What is the possible rationale behind keeping this secret?
Students and university workers have common interests in going on strike. Uni workers face pension cuts, a fall in real wages, longer hours and casualised contracts.
Graduate teaching assistants are double exploited – underpaid for their work, while paying higher tuition fees and rent. These wretched conditions are affecting their ability to teach productively, and their mental health.
Similarly, students face higher tuition and accommodation fees. Many KCL students have bank loans to cover their costs.
These dire conditions are the consequence of increasing penetration of the capitalist free market into education. Commercialisation has reduced the student-teacher relationship to service provider and consumer.
In informal conversations, many students talk about the salability of their thesis in order to obtain fellowships and scholarships. The free market has arrested creativity in education.
But it’s also created common suffering for the students and university staff. And brought us to student and staff strike action.
Mistakenly, KCL student union president Zahara Syed said that strike action by UCU and NUS “is not in the interest of the students, as they have suffered enough from Covid lockdown”.
We don’t want to strike. But it’s the most effective tool we have to stop genuine suffering – underpayment of uni staff, job insecurity trough casualisation, gender and disability pay gap, exorbitant tuition and accommodation fees.
Scandalously, to discuss all these complex issues, I was only granted one minute to speak at the student union meeting. From the beginning of the academic year, only Socialist Students has been opposing the commodification of education, campaigning for scrapping tuition fees, and calling for democratic student control over determining accommodation rent.
Socialist Students annual conference is on Saturday 26 February in Birmingham 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